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The evolution of craft beer in a can

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Craft brewers sold nearly 11.5 million barrels of beer in the U.S. last year, a 15% increase from the year before, according to the Brewers Association. But they didn’t sell it in the barrels. Sure, some was delivered in kegs to brewpubs aiming to please the increasingly sophisticated palates of their patrons. But the rest went into bottles and, increasingly, aluminum cans. Since Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery became the first sizable micro brewer to put its beer into cans 10 years ago, many others have followed suit. Three years ago, Brewers Association founder and beer author Charlie Papazian reported in The Examiner that 52 craft brewers had begun packaging their beer in cans, following the Oskar Blues example. By summer 2012, the number had jumped to 200 brewers and 600 craft beers, according to CNBC.

Cans, as we know, are lighter and easier to transport than glass bottles, giving small brewers a more affordable way to widen their distribution areas, a fact pointed out in a recent Chicago Sun-Times article detailing how canning Dale’s Pale Ale allowed brewpub owner Dale Katechis to package his restaurant’s beer and eventually expand into multiple brands that beer drinkers enjoyed all the way in the Windy City.

Cans come with other advantages, as Papazian points out in his Examiner piece, including the fact that cans don’t shatter and that their opaqueness offers the ability to shield the liquid inside from light. He also pointed out that the biggest hurdle to success might be changing people’s preconceived negative notions about canned beer.

Turns out somebody else thought of that as well. In early November, beer fans and craft brewers gathered in Reno for the fourth annual Canfest, where attendees could sample some 70 canned craft beers from 25 regional breweries, Metromix reported.

“We as micros first could only do kegs, then 22-ounce bottles only, then six packs, then 12-pack bottles, and now cans. Its a natural evolution for the craft beers,” Mammoth Brewing Co. owner Sean Turner said.

Since the day in 2002 when Katechis began canning Dale’s Pale Ale by hand using a tabletop machine, the Oskar Blues brand has grown into a sizable producer. The company sold 59,000 barrels last year, projected 90,000 for 2012 and is on track to complete an East Coast brewery next year that will be capable of turning out 140,000 barrels, CNBC’s Consumer Nation reported in August as part of an interview with Katechis.

“I imagine there were other brewers who understood the benefits of cans, but weren’t willing to risk or sacrifice their brands on this niche because it was a gamble and it could have gone one way or the other. Luckily, the can in itself being a legitimate package, was able to stand up to the scrutiny,” he said.