Bag in Box Beer: An Alternative Packaging for Certain Ales
The widespread nature of COVID-19 that began three years ago introduced the concept of “pivoting” for small businesses that needed to grapple with a rapidly changed world. For brewers this widely meant the closure of taprooms and the loss of draft accounts and the change to curbside pickup, home delivery, and extra canning.
The pandemic also allowed for some breweries to embrace long-simmering ideas that were always backburnered. This was true for Brett Smith the Head Brewer at Branch and Bone Artisan Ales in Dayton, Ohio.
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Pre-pandemic he had admired breweries like Forest & Maine, Machine House, and Primitive Beer for packaging their ales in bags and boxes, similar to the popular at-home wine format.
“It wasn’t a necessity,” he said of adding beer in a box to the packaged format options at the brewery. “We started packaging things that had previously been draft only, like our English ales. Our mild, for example, was selling great [in cans] and getting a good response so we realized that we could get away with things that we wanted to do, like bag in box.”
Smith sought council from the other brewers using the packaging, got in touch with a New York company that manufacturers the 5 liter bags, and put in an initial order of 300. There was some trial and error at first.
He had thought about conditioning the beer inside the bag, but the appearance of dispensed beer was undesirable. So now he says the bag in box is reserved for English-style ales that don’t need high volumes of carbonation.
“We want beers that already have carbonation, .8 or 9 volumes on a typical two week beer. Then we build up some head pressure, pop off the cap of the bag, purge it with CO2, fill it, and put the cap back on with foam on top.”
The brewery fills between 10 and 20 bag in box packages at a time, bumping up supply via beer that has been kegged off specifically for the package fills, Smith says.
Colder months are better for sales, he notes, and in March when the brewery offers it’s dry Irish stout in the package, it’s a good seller, especially for parties. They brewery is selling 5 liters, or 11 pints, for about $30.
He does not expect bag in box to replace cans or bottles, but for certain ales and certain customers it’s a welcome package that keeps beer fresh for a few weeks after opening (if it lasts that long) and offers a cask-like experience for drinkers at home.
“We’ve left one open for months in our cold room and pull from it every once in a while and it showed no signs of oxidation or anything,” he said.
Smith says he hopes to add mixed fermentation beers to the bag in box offerings, albeit in a smaller liter format.
“I have a mission to make English beer cool and I want people to appreciate these styles of beer, and bag in a box helps,” he says.
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