New Orleans liberal public consumption laws of alcohol, as well as its many festivals and parades, have made canned beer popular here way before the new craft beer canning trend. More and more breweries are choosing to package their beer in cans instead of bottles, citing cans' lighter weight, easier recyclability, and imperviousness to light, the natural enemy of beer. Local breweries NOLA Brewing and Tin Roof have been canning their beers for several years, and Abita brewing now offers several of their beers in cans as well as bottles.
On January 24, 1935, almost 80 years ago, Gottfreid Krueger Brewing Company in New Jersey distributed its Krueger's Finest Beer in cans to the public, which was the first ever canned beer distributed. In 1969, canned beer outsold bottled beer for the first time, and it has continued its domination ever since. However, until recently, industrial canning lines were very large and expensive, which meant only the big breweries like Anhauser-Busch, Miller, and Coors had access to equipment on that scale. As a result, for many years, canned beer has been associated primarily with cheap American lagers. (With the notable exception of canned Guinness stout which comes packaged with a widget that gives the beer its characteristic smooth pour and thick head).
However, in 2002, a (then) small craft brewery in Colorado changed that perception when Oskar Blues brewing became the first craft brewery to can its flagship beer, Dale's Pale Ale. Over the following ten years, the trend has grown into a bona fide phenomenon. According to CraftCans.com, a website dedicated to "News and Reviews of the Canned Beer Revolution," almost 400 breweries now can 1400 beers. There are 12 ounce cans, 16 ounce cans, 19.2 ounce "imperial pint" cans, and even 32 ounce cans available filled with fresh, delicious craft beer.
Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch, a long time holdout against canning beer, invested two years and over one million dollars to design the perfect can to allow for more airflow and aroma while drinking, which Koch believed would allow the flavors of the beer to be enjoyed as they should be. The brewery accomplished this by increasing the size and width of the lid, and changing the shape of the lid lip to mimic an hourglass, which encourages the drinker's mouth to open more and the beer to land further back in the mouth and throat area. Also, the redesign repositioned the can opening slightly toward the center of the lid so it aligns with the drinker's nose, helping to accentuate the hop aromas of the beer.
International brand Heineken has also tinkered with the design of their cans, bringing to market an 8.5 ounce can in addition to the standard 12 oz can. These smaller, sleeker cans are intended to be easier and lighter to transport.
This parade and festival season, there are more craft beers than ever to enjoy on the neutral ground or sidewalk. In addition to Samuel Adams, large craft breweries like Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewing, and New Belgium also offer their flagship beers in both cans and bottles. Other craft breweries like Mississippi's Southern Prohibition Brewing, New Mexico's Santa Fe Brewing, and Texas's Southern Star Brewing are providing high quality canned craft beers to the New Orleans market.
Abita President David Blossman says of his brewery's recent decision to offer Abita Amber, Purple Haze, and Jockamo IPA as canned beer option to consumers in 2012, "Cans were not an option for us back in the late 80?s." "Cans were associated with cheaper beer and small can lines were not available. Even though the majority of Louisiana consumers prefer bottles over cans today, they are more open to the idea of good beer in cans. We wanted to offer our fans an option for occasions where bottles are not allowed or convenient."
Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge has been canning their flagship beers, Perfect Tin Amber, Voodoo Bengal Pale Ale, and Tin Roof Blonde, since 2011. In 2013, the brewery started canning its seasonals, Watermelon Wheat, Parade Ground Porter, and Juke Joint IPA.
However, not all local breweries are on the can bandwagon. Michael Naquin, founder, owner, and brewer at 40 Arpent Brewing in Arabi, says, "I can't help it, in the age that I grew up in you associated a certain quality with cans. While that may be changing it's hard for me to see past that. I see the local benefit such as festivals, Mardi Gras, and tailgating, but beyond Louisiana, maybe not so much. I just recently tried Santa Fe, though, and have to admit it could help sway my mind into cans. All in all, it will come down to sales. When it comes time to decide I will look at sales stats from my distributor to see what sells better. Personally, I would like to see my product in bottles. Bottles also get better shelf location. I will say that the upfront cost seems to be less with cans." Cost aside, however, I just want the packaging to reflect the quality inside.
NOLA Brewing has been canning its flagship beers NOLA Brown and NOLA Blonde since 2011, and began canning its Hopitoulas, Mechahopzilla, and Irish Channel Stout in larger 16 ounce cans in 2013. Chief Operations Officer Dylan Lintern, says, "We decided to can our beer instead of bottle it for a few reasons. First and most important to us, it is a better vessel for the beer, it completely protects the beer from light and keeps it fresher. The second two reasons are a more local reasons for us. There is no open container law in New Orleans, so you can drink on the street, as long as it is not a glass container. Lastly, the city of New Orleans does not recycle glass, so everything we make would go directly into a landfill if we used bottles, and that is just not acceptable to us."
NOLA Brewing also won gold for their canned NOLA Brown at the 2013 Ameri-CAN Canned Craft Beer Championship, which takes place during the Ameri-CAN Canned Craft Beer Festival, held in May in Scottsdale, AZ.
Lindsay Nations, founder of new Shreveport brewery Great Raft, agrees with Lintern, saying of their decision to can, "We find cans to be the best vessel to preserve and protect our delicate beers. As you know, cans fully protect the beer from UV light and allow for minimal oxygen pickup when packaging. Our goal is for a can of our beer to taste as fresh as a pint from our tasting room. Cans enable us to do just that." Although cans of Great Raft Southern Drawl Pale Lager and Commotion American Pale Ale are only available in the Shreveport area for now, in time they will have the capacity to send them down south to the New Orleans region.
National Beer Can Appreciation Day is January 24, and the next one celebrated in 2016 will be its 81st anniversary. Here's to 80 years, almost 81, of fresh and portable canned beer!