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More NC craft brewers are saying, ‘I think I can’

By Paul Viau | May 18, 2016
Photo by: Donated photo GOOD TIMES COME PACKAGED IN CANS — Even with all their beers on tap, many visitors of New Belgium Brewing's new Liquid Center appreciate the portability of cans.

It’s been more than a month since I wrote about craft beer, even though April was NC’s official ‘Craft Beer Month.’ For the record, I have not lost interest in craft beer, it was simply time to recognize some of the area’s businesses and attractions, with well-deserved thanks.

Since my most recent craft beer-related column was on Boojum Brewing’s innovative and award-winning can design, I thought I’d pick up where where I left off — because in just the past month, more NC craft brewers have hopped on the canning bandwagon.

This is a subject that has always interested me, because for decades only the larger breweries canned their beer. I wrote about this subject in 2014, just before Bervard’s Oskar Blues Brewery held their first NC ‘Burning CAN’ beer festival. At that festival, only craft brewers who canned their beer could participate, and I eagerly watched one craft brewer after another use a mobile canning operation to repackage their beer.

Oskar Blues, promoted their event, writing, “Burning CAN North Carolina celebrates canned craft beer in all its glory. Cans of craft beer were meant to be brought along and cracked open wherever you needed them — at a music festival, after a killer ride, on an epic paddle trip, or camping in the backcountry.”

There you have it, in a nutshell, a few of the reasons more craft brewers are embracing cans.

Did you know?  Oskar Blues is often cited as the first craft brewer to package their product in cans. The truth is — Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Brewery bravely distributed their top-selling beer, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager, in cans in 1991 — 11 years before Oskar Blues hit the market with Dale’s Pale Ale.

In fact, four other American craft beers also were also distributed in cans before Oskar Blues — Pete’s Summer Brew from Pete’s Brewing, Wisconsin Amber from Capital Brewery, Brewski Brewing’s Brewski Beer and Iron Range Amber Ale from James Page Brewing.

(See what interesting things you can find by reading “All About Beer” magazine.)

Getting back closer to home, Catawba Brewing Company in Morganton (and now brewing in Asheville, too) was one of the first to can its beer. Owners, Billy and Scott Pyatt, had sound business reasons for this decision.

“We are often asked why we chose to can our beer instead of bottling it,” Billy said.

“There are a few natural enemies of fresh beer. The first of those is light. Most beers contain some amount of hops; and the chemical compounds in hops that are responsible for aroma and bitterness are called alpha acids. When light hits beer, it drives a reaction between these alpha acids and the beer to form MBT (3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol). MBT is a sulfur compound that closely resembles skunk odor. Unlike bottles, cans are 100 percent light proof and provide protection to prevent the skunking of beer.

“The second enemy is air,” Billy said. “Over time, most bottle caps will leak slightly and allow air in; and when beer is oxidized a stale beer flavor occurs. The most unpalatable of these flavors tastes like wet cardboard. We swear no one has ever asked us for a cardboard flavored beer; so with a double-crimped seal, cans are better than bottles at preventing air from getting in. In essence, a can is a mini-keg, delivering draft quality fresh beer to your glass.”

“Canning also has other advantages over bottling. An empty can weighs less than 3oz. Therefore, canned beer weighs less and is easily stackable, making a pallet of beer more compact than a pallet of bottles. Less weight and packaging means you can move up to 40 percent more product with the same amount of resources, reducing the carbon footprint between brewer and consumer. Also, the cans are made of 70 percent recycled aluminum and are the most recycled beverage container, becoming a new can in an average of 60 days.

“The folks at Catawba Brewing Co. love all of the great outdoor activity available in our region. We are hikers, paddlers, cyclists, runners, disc golfers and climbers. For us and our friends, cans just make sense. Cans are portable and chill quickly, making them perfect for any outdoor activity or inactivity for that matter.”

The Pyatt brothers make a good case for craft beer in cans, and it’s no surprise that many WNC Brewers have adopted canning. To date, Asheville Brewing Company, Boojum Brewing Company, French Broad Brewing, Frog Level Brewing Company, Green Man Brewery, Oskar Blues Brewery, Pisgah Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Wedge Brewing Company all package some or all of their beers in cans. And just this month, Asheville’s pioneer craft brewer — Highland Brewing Company — hopped on the canned beer bandwagon. Highland’s new Pilsner is now available in cans wherever fine craft beers are sold, and other Highland beers may be repackaged as more portable potables.

Oh yes, and New Belgium Brewing’s flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale, is not only available in cans, it’s available on tap with the full line-up of NBB beers at the Liquid Center tasting room in Asheville's River Arts District. I’ll be writing about that wonderful new beer venue in the near future.

In the meantime, raise a can of beer with me — Cheers.