January 31, 2023

The Coming of the Can

The current be-all and end-all package of the beverage industry is the can. Cans are sturdy when filled, lightweight, air tight, block light from the contents inside, can hold carbonated backpressure if designed properly, are easily recycled, and with the proper internal sealant are virtually non-reactive with the contents they hold. Cans take up less space. Thin metal is very conductive, so cans heat faster if pasteurization is required, and cool quicker for your enjoyment. Plus, a shiny metal surface is the ideal canvas to paint your logo and product brand for display. The brewing industry caught on to this quickly, and has led the development of the technology as a practical packaging method.

The explosion of the soft drink industry in the 50s and 60s was due mainly to switching from bottles to cans. Now, even some wine producers are examining canning as a viable packaging technology, with the small four-pack cans of Sophia Sparkling Wine being the best known example. The biggest development in canning the last few years has been the number of craft brewers that now offer their selections in canned packaging.

For the height of summer heat, let’s examine the process of canning and the expansion of premium canned beers so you can become more aware of your canned drinking options.

“Yes, You Can” Challenges

The biggest challenges to the development of cans as a packaging technology were threefold. First, acidic liquids are reactive with certain metals and can leach ions into solution, giving the beverages a literal metallic taste. To overcome this, can manufactures developed a water based epoxy resin that is spray coated inside the can and baked into place. Modern aluminum cans are double sealed in such fashion, and there is the absolute barest trace of metal leaching into solution that can be detected (that said, for best flavor most brewers in particular still recommend pouring the beer from the can into a glass or cup to avoid placing the can in your mouth).

The second issue to overcome was the sturdiness of the packaging. Empty cans are very thin and beer can exert significant pressure, especially if pasteurized. A three piece can design with stronger alloys for the lid and base was developed to overcome pressure problems, which has since advanced to a two piece method of manufacture called drawing and wall ironing. Precision filling methods were also developed to avoid damage to the materials in the filling process.

The last issue was opening the package for consumption. Early cans required piercing the top with a churchkey. Pull tab systems for cans were designed in 1962 when Ermal Cleon Fraze developed the old removable pull tabs (ring pulls), which he licensed to the Pittsburg Brewing Company for use on Iron City Beer. Stay-on tab openers were developed in 1975 by Daniel Cudzik for the Reynolds Metals Company to address the problems the old ring pull tabs faced, not the least of which was trash from removable tabs.

Can You Say “Can, Please”?

Large breweries in particular have advanced can packaging as a sales gimmick since they don’t often change their product lines.  Leading the way with cans on the craft beer scene was Oskar Blues’ Brewery with its Dale’s Pale Ale in 2002.

Early in 2011 the craft brewing industry passed a milestone in that 100 breweries had purchased a canning line and were either actively canning or in the process of doing so. Arizona in particular has embraced the trend given our outdoor lifestyle with poolside barbecues and afternoons boating on the lake. There are currently eight microbreweries in the state canning their beers: Mudshark Brewing Co. in Lake Havasu City, Prescott Brewing Co., Four Peaks Brewing Co. in Tempe, Mogollon Brewing Co. in Flagstaff, Grand Canyon Brewing Co. in Williams, San Tan Brewing Co. in Chandler, Lumberyard Brewing Co. in Flagstaff, and Old World Brewery in Phoenix. Not to mention an extensive line of canned craft beers from other states and countries that are available here for purchase thanks to a distributor and retailer market that has capitalized on the demand.

The range of canned beers now extends well beyond the standard yellow fizzy light adjunct lager on offer from the mega breweries. Name a beer style and there’s a microbrewery canning it. In fact, several breweries only offer particular beers by can. So fire up the grill, put on the swimsuit, load the ice cooler, and grab a great tasting canned beer to enjoy the summer sun.

Drink responsibly.

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