Capital Pint

Goodbye growlers! Why beer cans are king

Yes, we can.

The title is overdone, but the comma is well-placed.

It’s been building for a while now. Cans have become the container of choice for the craft beer brewing industry — an industry once synonymous with the brown glass growler.

The tipping point came when Beau’s All Natural Brewing put its iconic Lug Tread, originally famed for its white ceramic bottle packaging, into 355mL cans.

“Everyone is very excited for cans of Lug-Tread,” says Jordan Bamforth, Beau’s creative designer. “I think one of the most interesting things about cans from a design perspective is that it’s a 360º canvas, and it forces you to think about how people will interact with it.” The new dark cans with the Lug Tread tractor are sharp looking, and tuck away nicely in a cooler or a back pocket.

Scott Johnston, co-owner of the Elgin Street Beer Project, echoes Bamforth’s design thoughts. “You can do way cooler marketing with a can — there’s more room for art and detail.” The beer-bar is already renowned for its impressive selection of canned brews. “[Cans] are getting bigger in the craft industry, mostly for simple reasons: they’re lighter, more efficient, less expensive, recycle better, and the beer can’t get tainted by light like a bottle can,” says Johnston.

One of the cans early, local adopters was Tooth and Nail. From Day One they were all about the 355mL can and the impressive 946mL crowler (that’s a giant, growler-like beer can]. Design may have factored into their early adoption of the can, but for Matt Tweedy, head brewer, it’s about the retention of beer quality.

“Cans are simply a better vessel overall for the retention of beer quality,” he explains. “Zero light and lower levels of dissolved oxygen preserve the freshness and flavour of the beer better than bottling. At a small brewery like ours where, we don’t have the funds for advanced lab equipment, it just makes sense.”

Can’t argue with the results. Aside from my own appreciation for their wares, the not-two-year-old brewery has already won awards at the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards.

And they’re not alone.

“For us, cans are about quality,” says co-owner and brewer Josh McJannett of Dominion City Brewing Company. “As a format, they leave less to chance when it comes to ensuring that quality beer makes its way to our customers’ glass compared to growlers, which are at greater risk for oxidation and infection.”

Light is an enemy of preserving and flavouring agent, hops. With too much light, the flavour profile is thrown off, which “skunks” the beer. Light can penetrate glass, even darker glass, but not aluminum. The seamed seal of a can is tighter than a cap, keeping oxygen from spoiling the fun. Plus, aluminum is lighter than glass, cools faster and comes in more consumer-friendly hand-held sizes than the 1.89L growler.

Simply put, cans are a more efficient vessel.

But there maybe another factor in the rise in the popularity of cans: the LCBO prefers them.

Or at least that’s Jeff Rogowsky’s theory. He runs the mobile canning company, Sessions Cannings, and so it seems he might be well-placed to comment on the popularity of cans.

Intrigued by this new hypothesis, I reached out to the LCBO to see if this theory – that canning is a reflection of their preference – holds water.

Not quite.

LCBO’s Keeley Rogers explains: “In craft beer and cider, there’s a customer preference for single tall cans, so they can get a variety of breweries and styles.”

So the LCBO is driving the change, but their reacting to consumer demand. In another words, it’s us who is driving the demand! Yes, we can!

It makes sense. Craft beer is still a relatively young phenomenon. Back in the day, there were fewer breweries and the beer pretty much tasted the same. Thankfully, those dark days are behind us. Given the variety available, beer drinkers now take a more experimental approach. You can test out a new style or brewery before committing a large space in your life, liver, and beer fridge to it. Or, if you’re a pretentious beer enthusiast like myself, you can have a variety of brews ready on hand for the right situation. For instance, a heavy stout for a cool evening, a refreshing wheat for a sunny day, or a session IPA for a responsible weekday.

Not only are beer drinkers getting a better choice, it’s being served in a superior vessel. What a time to be alive.