Twenty years ago, beer in a can signaled a “cheap” or mass-marketed brand. Craft brewers shuddered at the thought of putting high-flavored, authentically brewed craft beer in a can.
Fast forward to today, and cans will likely make up half of all distributed craft beer by the end of this year.
It all started with a small, relatively affordable and low-volume canning line developed specifically for the craft brewing industry by the Canadian company Cask. The first American craft brewery to take the dive into canning their beer was Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado, canning Dales Pale Ale back in 2002. It was neither a ‘hit’ or a ‘miss.’ Marketed as a new way to enjoy craft beer while rafting, hiking or at the beach, it slowly caught on as being “acceptable” to have craft beer in a can.
Canned craft beer continued to grow slowly until the advent of the mobile canning line, one of the most significant developments in the history of the craft brewing industry. This development is what pushed canned craft beer into the mainstream, allowing any brewery, regardless of size, to package beer in a container for retail distribution without having to purchase an expensive bottling line and huge quantities of labels and case cartons. The first mobile canning service in the world, The Can Van, was founded in 2011 in northern California. Additional mobile canning companies, combined with new, and better small canning lines, soon allowed almost any craft brewery to package beer in a can.
According to a blog post by Bart Watson, economist at the Brewers Association, cans made up 47% of all distributed BA-defined craft beer in 2019. That number will certainly surpass the 50% mark in 2020.
Not surprisingly, six-packs make up the greatest percentage of canned craft beer with 60% of the total. The 12-pack comes in at number 2 with 31% of the total volume.