By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
Genesee Brewing Company in Rochester, New York recently announced the installation of a $3.5 million production line for the purpose of packaging beer in 24 oz. cans. Explaining the decision, the brewery’s press release cited customer demand for canned beers as well as sustainability factors and the visual impact of cans on retail shelves. Expect to see more of the brewery’s classics including Genesee, Genny Light and Genny Cream Ale in the can at your local beer retailer.
From large macro-owned breweries like Genesee to tiny craft breweries, cans are popping up more and more often, and their advantages for both the customer and the brewery are often significant.
First there’s the environmental issue. If you’re drinking really local -- as in, drinking from your neighborhood brewery (and you should be, on a regular basis), the most environmentally friendly option is a reusable growler or keg from the brewery’s tap. Bottles are second-best for local drinking because the beer is just getting shipped to your corner store, so the weight factor of transporting it doesn’t cancel out the fact that glass bottles are less energy-intensive to produce. (For an excellent article on Slate magazine that explains these environmental issues in depth, click here: http://www.slate.com/id/2186219/ Special thanks to Matt Brewing Company rep Chris Miller for this link.)
Cans start to become the most environmentally responsible choice when your beer is hitting the road for long distances. With their lightweight packaging, cans are less energy intensive to transport. And for one reason or another, customers more commonly recycle cans than bottles -- which is good because there are more uses for recycled aluminum than for recycled glass. There are a lot of factors at play, but the obvious low transportation costs and warm consumer reception associated with canned beer mean it’s not just an environmental boon.
For Butternuts Beer & Ale, a leader in canned New York beer, the advantages of cans were obvious from the start. “Butternuts Beer & Ale has been packaging all four of their flagship beers in cans since the brewery started in 2005,” explains owner/operator Chuck Williamson. “Cans have become a well-received package for craft beer as of late.”
Williamson points out that cans are part of the package that is the eye-catching Butternuts brand, recognized for its brightly colored, wacky imagery. “One of the main reasons we went to cans from the start was to stand out in the market. For a small brewery start-up with limited funds we felt we could make a market impression with this package coupled with our off-beat product labeling.”
Like most environmentally conscious choices, the decision to use cans made financial sense too. “The material cost per unit is lower as well which allows us to be price competitive in a market where traditionally large brewers position themselves,” says Williamson. “The packaging is lighter as well which means we can ship more cases on a pallet saving on shipping and reducing our shipping demand. And aluminum is nearly 100% recyclable so when you are through with your beer can it may very well become a beer can again!”
Saranac, perhaps the most prominent member of the Matt Brewing Company family of beers, is also embracing the can. The brewery offers its Saranac Pale Ale in a 16 oz. can -- and it’s widely held among New York beer lovers that the canned version tastes even better than the bottled. “Basically, it’s one more option we can offer to our customers,” explains Matt Brewing Co. representative Chris Miller. Saranac also recycles all production and packaging materials including aluminum, which makes the canned Pale Ale a superior green option even if you live near the brewery.
It’s obvious canned beer isn’t just for mainstream macros anymore; the benefits are perfectly suited to craft breweries as well. Do you have any favorite beers in cans?