To can or not to can? That is the question—though one craft brewers are increasingly answering in the affirmative.
Rewind just 10 years even and it was quite a different story for the craft industry. That all changed when Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewing began to release their products solely in cans. From there it spread like wildfire. San Antonio-based Branchline Brewing Company is one of the most recent breweries to make the switch.
Many of us still associate a skunky aroma and flavor with cans. Aluminum vessel of the past were not usually lined and often imparted a metallic aftertaste to the liquid inside. Those days are long gone, as canning technology has improved dramatically. Today, cans are sprayed with a water-based lining that protects the contents’ flavor. Since cans are airtight and offer superior protection from sunlight, many breweries are ditching the usual bottles.
The amount of time a beer lasts depends on a few factors: the style, how the beer is packaged and stored, how it’s handled by the brewer, as well as what the distributor or retailer does with it. The added protection from sunlight and air does give cans an advantage over bottles in terms of longevity. Just remember, regardless of bottle or can, you will want to enjoy ales, hoppy beers and those low in ABV (alcohol by volume) sooner, but your higher gravity beers and darker brews you can push the edge if you wish—just make sure to store them at or below 50 degrees.
Branchline is the first San Antonio-based operation since the Pearl Brewery shut down in 2001 to can their brew. “From the beginning, our goal was to can,” said Branchline founder Jason Ard, who added, “What’s more Texan than enjoying your favorite beer in a can while at the river?”
Aside from the benefits to the health of our favorite brewed beverage, cans are also easier to recycle and transport empties—“pack in, pack out,” to use Oskar Blue’s phrasing—which makes them environmentally friendly. Although canning can often be more expensive than bottling (it all depends on the quantity being packaged), Branchline’s main concern is the quality of their end product.
To accomplish the task of canning their wares without breaking the bank, Branchline recently enlisted the services of American Canning, a mobile canning company that also handles the canning duties for other Texas breweries such as Uncle Billy’s Brew and ‘Que and Independence Brewing in Austin.
The canning system will be able to put out 30 cans per minute, and Branchline will need that kind of efficiency as they expect to can around 20 barrels a month—some 220 cases. “We’ll start with 20 barrels’ worth of cans and ramp it to 40 barrels as soon as we can,” said Ard.
Their first canning effort is the ever-popular Evil Owl Amber, an easy-drinking amber ale with a nice malt profile and piney hop aroma. By the end of 2014, Ard hopes to add the Woodcutter Rye IPA in 16-ounce four-packs. He looks to have all three of his year-round offerings (Evil Owl, Woodcutter and Shady Oak Blonde) canned within the next three years. By then he also hopes to purchase his own canning line.
Branchline will begin canning Evil Owl this week and it should be available by week’s end in San Antonio area Spec’s, Whole Foods, Central Market and Gabriel’s Super Store on 281 and Blanco, with remaining H-E-Bs on the horizon. Evil Owl will be available in 12-ounce 6-packs. Look for them as you stock up for the season’s first great tubing adventure.