Quick, which is better: beer in a bottle or a beer in a can?
For a growing number of microbreweries and craft beer drinkers, the answer is “can.”
“It was a no-brainer to put my product in a can. The can is by far the superior package. You can make great craft beer, put it in a can, and it’s still a great craft beer,” says Anthony Canecchia, owner of SanTan Brewing Company in Chandler.
He started canning four of SanTan’s beers last summer, and his brewery will host the inaugural Ameri“CAN” Canned Craft Beer Festival on Saturday, May 21, in downtown Chandler.
The event will feature more than 30 microbreweries that distribute their handcrafted brews in aluminum cans.
“For years, the perception has been that the only type of beer that goes in cans is your fizzy, bland American lagers,” says Canecchia. But, he says, beer drinkers are starting to see cans much the way wine drinkers have come around to the merits of a screw-top bottle over a cork.
“You can put a beer in a can, and it will taste as good when you open it as it does coming out of the tap,” he says.
For small brewers, canning beer is cheaper than bottling it, and since cans weigh less, they cost less to ship to markets, says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a national group of more than 1,000 brewery members and 19,000 home brewers based in Boulder, Colo.
Cans offer portability and durability over bottles and, some say, a better taste, thanks to light-blocking walls and a sealing process that reduces the amount of oxygen trapped inside with the beer. There’s also the green factor; cans are easy to recycle and are often made from other recycled cans.
Beer was first packaged in cans in the 1930s, and its popularity grew for about 60 years, says Gatza. But as mass-market mega-brewers flooded shelves with low-priced — some say sub-standard — canned beer, beer in a can was seen as cheap, with an inferior metallic taste.
Today, canned beer accounts for about 51 percent of beer sales. Of that, Gatza estimates only about 0.3 percent are canned craft beers, from about 118 microbreweries across the nation. The rest are big, household-name beers distributed nationally.
“We figure there’s about 300,000 barrels a year of craft beer made in cans. Overall, there 107 million barrels of beer in cans. (Canned craft beers are) small on the volume side, but they’re getting more and more shelf space all the time, and the brewers who use cans are growing rapidly. I think it’ll easily be up to 400,000 or 500,000 barrels next year.”
Gatza says he’s never tasted a difference in canned beers — and he’s a national beer judge trained to evaluate beer. Today’s cans come with a water-based liner that keeps the beer out of contact with the metal.
The Ameri“CAN” festival will bring several out-of-state beers to Arizona, says Landon Evans, one of its organizers.
“More than half the beers are not sold in the state. We have beers coming all the way from Maine, all the way from Austria,” he says.
Oskar Blues, the Colorado brewery credited with kicking off the canned craft beer revolution about a decade ago, is among them.
The festival will include a “beer science” garden, and attendees will be able to place a can in a canning machine, then watch as it’s cleaned, filled with Sonoran Brewing Company rootbeer and sealed. The can is a souvenir to keep.
Gatza says a number of well-respected breweries have signed on for the Arizona event.
“If it’s not (on the map) this year, it will be next year,” he says, citing 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley, Maui, New Belgium and Four Peaks breweries as stand-outs among the participants.
“As time goes by, the overall acceptance that beer in a can doesn’t have to be light and watery is going to grow. People will realize it actually can have lots of hop and malt character,” says Gatza.
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