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Ballard's Hilliard's Beer is among a number of craft brewers going with cans instead of bottles. (Kelly O'Dell/Hilliard's Facebook image)

Craft brewers giving bottles the boot in favor of cans

Many beer snobs wouldn't be caught dead drinking a canned beer, usually associated with cheap, mass-produced brews. But more and more craft brewers are giving the boot to bottles and turning to cans instead.

Hilliard's Beer in Ballard has only used cans since it opened in October 2011. Founder Ryan Hilliard says beer in cans is far better than bottles.

"The beer is exactly the same when it comes out of the tap. The can keeps all the light out. The light reacts with the beer in bottles and makes it 'skunkie'. It also keeps out more oxygen than the traditional bottle cap does on a bottle," he says.

Cans were a preferred method for many brewers since their advent in the 1930's. But as big, industrial beer makers came to prominence, the costs became prohibitive to smaller brewers, Hilliard says.

"It was cheaper to ship, it was cheaper to buy, it made sense environmentally," he says. "The problem is that all the equipment to can beer was sort of built around these big industrial breweries and soda plants."

It's a big investment for brewers. Hilliard says the minimum order is eight pallets of cans at a time. And he orders them by the truckload, which means he has to invest in 156,000 pre-printed cans whenever he buys them.

"So it's not like we can say 'oh well we don't want to produce this beer anymore let's go to a different one.' If you have bottles, you can slap whatever label on it you want. Cans aren't that flexible."

Hilliard's and others are rapidly eliminating the stigma of the beer can as a container for cheap or mass-produced beer. Even the nationally-popular Sam Adams Boston Lager now comes in cans designed to improve the taste.

"It's not your father's beer can anymore," says Jim Koch, founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Co., the maker of Sam Adams.

Koch, a self-proclaimed purist, at first "stubbornly resisted" putting Sam Adams in cans. But after spending more than two years and $1 million developing a couple dozen prototypes, the "Sam Can" was born. Koch says that with a bigger lid and a more defined lip, the redesigned can forces your mouth open more and puts your nose closer to the opening, creating a better flavor experience.

Both craft brewers and craft beer drinkers are coming around to the idea of cans. More affordable supplies and canning equipment also are helping the boom. In 2002, just one craft brewery was using cans. Now around 300 different breweries offer close to 1,000 beers in cans, according to CraftCans.com, a site that tracks the canned beer revolution.

"Craft beer in cans is becoming more mainstream each and every day," says Brian Thiel, regional sales manager with packaging firm Crown Holdings. "The stigma that has existed continues to get lifted."

Hilliard's offers four different brews in cans that have consistently drawn rave reviews from beer fans. And even though the company likely won't be offering others in cans any time soon because of the costs, Hilliard is thrilled by the quality and the reception of his offerings.

"They're just a better product. Better for the beer, better for the environment, better for the bottom line," he says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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