New Product Trend: Craft Beer in a Can
In 2005, Garrett Marrero moved from California to Hawaii with the goal of becoming an entrepreneur.
Marrero's plan was to buy a restaurant that had a license to make its own beer, and then focus on expanding the brewery.
When his company, Maui Brewing, won a major award for its Coconut Porter Ale, interest in the business grew.
Maui Brewing is part of a larger trend among upscale craft brewers that are returning to the beer industry's blue-collar roots.
More craft brewers are choosing to sell their products in lowly aluminum cans instead of tall glass bottles.
Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado, was one of the first upscale brewers to jump on the beer-can band wagon.
At first, founder Dale Katechis laughed at the idea of packing his beer in lowly cans.
He changed his mind only after Cask Brewing Systems, the Canadian firm that manufactures the canning machine, made him a sweetheart offer.
The company had created a two-head canning machine, and was looking for a brewer to try it out.
To win the business, Cask Brewing had arranged for the first batch of Dale's Pale Ale to be canned in a relatively small production run.
Katechis liked the way the canned beer tasted--and he liked the idea of trying something different.
Though beer snobs eschewed the canned beer, Katechis decided to can Dale's Pale Ale anyway.
Canned beer still faces a stigma concerning quality, which is why brewers such as Oskar Blues host a lot of tastings.
There is actually a good quality argument for putting beer in cans.
Exposure to UV light is what causes beer to spoil; an aluminum can is, of course, impervious to light.
Cans are also hermetically sealed, unlike bottles--another selling point for established breweries such as Denver's Wynkoop (above), which makes Rail Yard Ale.
Perceived value aside, these two basic factors help to create high-quality standards among canned beer. Still, attitudes have been slow to change.
A turning point came in 2007 when Sly Fox's canned-beer Pikeland Pils won a major award, which shocked the craft-beer industry.
Suddenly, craft brewers realized that canned beer could be made with fine ingredients.
Sly Fox brewer Tom Ohst says that winning the gold medal changed everything overnight.
At the same time, a green-business argument for canning beer emerged.
Cans are recyclable and take up less space than bottles. They also have a longer shelf life.
Cans of beer are also lighter in weight, so manufacturing and transporting them consumes much less fuel than the manufacturing and transporting of bottles.
Still, the number of craft brewers who have switched from bottles to cans is tiny compared to the industry as a whole.
But more than 50 craft beers are now sold in cans, making this one of the beer industry's fastest-growing segments.
Sensing a market opportunity, the Canadian firm Cask Brewing has ramped up plans to build larger beer canning equipment.
More important, consumer buying habits appear to be evolving, and larger brands such as Brooklyn Lager and New Belgium Fat Tire are being sold in cans.
Meanwhile, back in Maui, Marrero's brewery business is thriving. His Bikini Blonde Lager carries the slogan: "What the Sailors Really Come to Shore For..."
That's how a small business far from the mainland U.S. can help to change a billion-dollar industry.