The ameriCAN Canned Craft Beer Fest at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix on April 28, a unique gathering of craft brew aficionados, celebrates the beverage’s aluminum cans as much as the beer itself.
The event will bring together a diverse lineup of over 100 local and national craft brewers that all have one thing in common — they serve their beer in aluminum.
While the 2018 lineup was not finalized as of print time, it will feature local breweries Borderlands, Dragoon, Huss, Lumberyard, Mother Road, Mudshark, Sun Up and SanTan Brewing Company.
The point of the festival is “to showcase that there is amazing craft beer coming from a can,” SanTan Sales and Marketing Representative Alejandro Fontes said. SanTan founded the festival, which is going on its eighth year.
The 2017 lineup included 90 breweries from across the country – including Anderson Valley, Arrogant Bastard, Breckenridge, Dogfish Head, Firestone Walker, Left Hand, Rogue and Victory.
In addition to the beer itself, the festival will feature a beer science garden and canning seminars to teach attendees the ins and outs of craft brewing. There will also be a “beer Olympic games” with events like giant beer pong.
In previous years, the festival took place in May to coincide with American Craft Beer Week. However, the organizers decided to move it up to April this year to beat the heat.
SanTan Founder and Brewmaster Anthony Canecchia originally created the festival as an ode to Colorado craft brewing staple Oskar Blues Brewery’s long-running Burning Can Festival, which has developed into a massive multi-day event that takes place in both Lyons, Colorado, and Hendersonville, North Carolina.
When craft beer first began catching on in the United States, cans were seen as a cheaper, low-quality alternative to bottles or draft beer by many consumers.
However, the quality of cans has improved in the past decade. Oskar Blues was one of the first craft breweries to take a “leap of faith” and put its beer in aluminum, Fontes said.
“When SanTan went production, in terms of packaging, we immediately went to cans,” Fontes said.
Cans are no longer the red-headed stepchild of the craft brewing world, and aluminum’s popularity is growing in the industry for a multitude of reasons.
The arguably most important is the balance between cost and quality. Canned beer is 30 percent cheaper to produce per liter, according to a study published in the journal “Beverages.”
“Cans keep beer fresher longer and keep the sun away from affecting quality and flavor,” said Jen Pruett, public relations and marketing director at HDE Agency. HDE partners with SanTan to put the festival on every year.
The validity of those claims is a topic of hot debate in the beer community.
The “Beverages” study” found that consumers have a pre-existing bias toward bottles over cans when they can see what type of packaging a beer comes in.
However, a blind taste test showed consumers couldn’t tell the difference between beers poured from each container type.
Craft brewers still favor glass bottles over cans by a large margin, but the gap between the two has shrunk in recent years as the bias toward bottles has lessened in the U.S. In 2013, 5.6 percent of craft beers came in cans. By 2016, that percentage had risen to 17.2 percent, according to Brewers Association.
Cans are also more portable and preferable to glass in outdoor activities like camping or hiking, Fontes said.
“We love to do everything outdoors in Arizona, and aluminum cans are so much more helpful when going on our outdoor adventures,” he said.
Beyond practical concerns, cans also give breweries the chance to flex their creative muscles by wrapping beer in unique artwork that represents each beer’s style, ingredients and the region where its brewery is located.
“There is definitely a design element,” Pruett said. “A lot of craft beer cans have a lot of great art. It is a good way to be creative.”
Guests will have the chance to view the best art that the craft brewers in attendance have to offer, and they will actually get to taste the beer, too.
Tickets to the festival cost $35 for presale and $45 at the door. They include a souvenir four-ounce can and 20 beer samples from participating breweries. Designated driver tickets are also available for $20 and do not include beer samples.
“This is a chance to experience a lot of breweries that you normally wouldn’t have a chance to,” Fontes said. “Of all these breweries that come out, there is always a sprinkle of beers you can’t find in Arizona and also what is available on grocery store shelves.”