‘Rise of craft beer demands packaging that can stand up to the needs of an artisan beverage’

By Matt Twiss

- Last updated on GMT

Harbour Brewery now sell craft beer in cans.
Harbour Brewery now sell craft beer in cans.

Related tags: Beer

‘The growth of the craft beer industry has accelerated rapidly in recent years.

In the UK, where real ale has been popular for many centuries, the palates of the beer drinking public started to crave something more than the nitro-kegged lagers and bitters that were introduced in the 1970s. This has driven a trend towards innovative, locally produced beers.

The Wild Beer Co

Breweries of all sizes have contributed to the rise of the craft beer industry, and as it has evolved so too has the need for a packaging format that can stand up to the needs of such an artisan beverage.

Matt Twiss Profile
Matt Twiss

Cans are the obvious choice as they provide a hermetic, air-tight seal and block out light 100%, ensuring craft beers are kept in the best condition possible. They are easier and more cost-effective to transport, meaning brewers can reduce their carbon footprint and boost sustainability credentials. 

By partnering with brewers across the UK, Crown has a graphics and technical support team to guide craft brewers from an initial design idea to the finished, decorated can.

The Wild Beer Co, established in 2012 by co-founders Brett Ellis and Andrew Cooper, produces beers that have ‘wild, funky, sour flavors that come from barrel aging’, in addition to a variety of hoppy pale ales. Both Ellis and Cooper recognized the benefits of adopting cans at an early stage, seeing them as the best vehicle for their beers.

The can offers an impenetrable barrier meaning the contents are delivered to consumers in the condition intended. To this end, the brewery held several canned beer tastings across Europe and the UK, which, according to direct feedback and the buzz created through its social media channels, were a huge success.

Even non-believers in metal packaging have been duly converted, as was the case with Moor Beer, in Bristol, UK, who was one of the first craft brewers to can-condition its beer after its owner, Justin Hawke, carried out a personal research project to prove to himself that bottles were superior to cans – something he had initially thought was a foregone conclusion.

“It involved getting as many samples as I could of the same beer in both cans and bottles. In virtually every instance the can was actually better – not a little, but a lot better. The beer was fresher and the hop aromas truer.

"It was at that point I decided we were not presenting our beers in the best way possible, so I started investigating canning technology."

Festivals & sporting events

In addition to freshness and flavor benefits, the usability of the can is also something to consider. Many craft beer lovers enjoy drinking their favorite brews outdoors, which, in environments such as festivals, sporting events or, as Harbour Brewery points out, on the UK’s beaches, can rule out bottles altogether due to health and safety restrictions.

Harbour Brewery, based in the south west of England, chose to install its own can line, capable of filling 1,800 Crown-supplied cans per hour. Owner Eddie Lofthouse said: “You can take cans on our beaches easily. They are light, so you are more likely to carry a can home and dispose of it properly, and they don’t break.”

Canning on site, as with Harbour, is becoming more common in the UK. Another brewery working closely with Crown – this time in the north of England – is Northern Monk.

Owner, Russell Bisset, commented: “We’re excited to be one of a number of microbreweries to can its beer on site; we launched our canned beer range in September of last year.

“Our raison d’être is to take the best of what came before us and look at how we can incorporate the latest in techniques, packaging and ingredients from across the world to make the products of the future.

"With this in mind, canning our beer was a natural progression.”

Pic of Cans (1)

It is encouraging that many craft brewers are filling on site, with a number investing in canning lines to meet demand quickly and effectively. Whilst there are myriad benefits to integrating this equipment, a large proportion of the UK’s craft breweries are not at that stage at present preferring instead to adopt a different approach.

A popular enterprise in the US, mobile canning has started to emerge in the UK, and Them That Can are making canning possible for breweries nationwide.

Owner Jamie Kenyon fills minimum runs of 1,000 liters for labelled and pre-printed cans, and through working with Crown is able to offer his customers a full design and artwork service, and off-site storage – allowing cans to be drawn down as and when required and freeing up space for producers.

Craft brewing is not a simple trend or phase that is expected to pass us by – it is an innovative, fast moving industry with a solid growth rate that shows no sign of slowing down.’

Matt Twiss is marketing and business development director, Crown Bevcan Europe & Middle East.

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