“To do as has always been done” may be a great business model for just about any industry in the world … except craft beer. Today’s craft consumer has proven time and time again a willingness to try new things, and breweries are fighting to keep up. These modern drinkers are adventurous; they’re technologically advanced; and more importantly, given the flood of great beer in a saturated craft market, their standards are high.
Need proof? No other statistic proves it more than the recent rise in canned-beer sales.
Sure, any beer drinker over the age of forty can remember a time when bottles were the only option and anything else was considered beer blasphemy, but just as wine makers accepted the Stelvin closure and mixologists have embraced the mason jar, beer, too, has changed. And it’s becoming harder to ignore the practicality, portability, and eco-friendly pros of canning.
No one can tell the story of the rise of canning better than Peter Love, the widely-accepted godfather of American canned beer. As Love’s Canada-based company Cask Global Canning Solutions approaches their impressive thirty-year milestone in the beer business, Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® caught up with Love to discuss his take on the canning revolution that’s sweeping the world—a revolution he’s advocated since his company’s move to produce canning lines in 1999.
“I remember going to the Craft Brewer’s Conference and hoping to make my first sale,” Love recalls. “A guy there told me it was a stupid idea and that no one would ever accept canned craft beer. I wish I still had his number.”
Love’s family-owned company has taken many forms over the years since it opened in 1973 as a subsidiary of his grandfather’s grain-export business. Since its shift to focusing on the craft-beer industry in the 1980s and canning in the 1990s, Cask now boasts more than 800 micro-canning lines sold to brewers around the world.
“Back then, brew-on-premise was popular due to high taxes on beer in Canada,” Love says. “But bottles were heavy, hard to transport, and hard to recycle, and we knew there was a better way. That’s how all the best inventions have started—from problem solving.”
Micro-Canning in Numbers
Though bottles are still the preferred method of craft-beer packaging, those numbers have slowed and canning is well on the rise. According to a first-quarter study published this year by Brewers Association economist Bart Watson, canning has grown in breweries of all sizes since 2013, but canning numbers have more than doubled for breweries under 10,000 case equivalents (CEs).
That’s because for new brewery owners and small brewhouses, the advantages of canning outweigh the stigmas: Cans boost shipping efficiency, and they dramatically cut packaging-materials costs. On the consumer side, they’re lighter and more durable, they go where glass can’t, and they chill faster.
“Our machines give smaller breweries the ability to package their beer the best way possible,” says Love. And he’s right. Just look at the success of Oskar Blues Brewery & Pub in Lyons, Colorado—Love’s first micro-canning line sale to a U.S. microbrewer. Oskar Blues became the first U.S. craft brewer to brew and can their own beer and eventually the fastest-growing canning success story in the country.
Since that sale in 2002, many leading U.S craft-beer breweries such as Avery Brewing and Surly Brewing have all purchased Cask systems before moving to larger lines. Currently, the micro-canning concept is catching on, and Cask’s systems are in more than forty nations worldwide.
Though many of Cask’s clients see financial success after their canning-line purchases, Love promises to stay small. “We’ve been asked to make bigger canning lines for bigger breweries. That’s just not our thing,” says Love. “These brewers become our friends, not just business partners. I have no problem with them growing bigger; I’m happy for them. But we enjoy helping the smaller guys and will continue to do that.”
PHOTOS: COURTESY CASK GLOBAL CANNING SOLUTIONS