After opening three successful bars and pubs throughout San Diego, it was no surprise that Scot and Karen Blair’s fourth endeavor Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery would also be a hit – and with the extensive knowledge of craft beer culture that has always been on display at these establishments, it was no surprise that they’d sooner or later get into the brewing business as well. But what was surprising was that, when Monkey Paw decided to put its Sweet Georgia Brown, Rich Man’s IIPA, and Oatmeal Pale Ale on the retail market, they’d be packaging the beer in cans.
“There’s a company in San Francisco that has a mobile canning line, called the Can Van – they literally roll their canning line in, hook up to your tanks and can it off, and then load it right back into their trailer,” explains Derek Freese, head brewer at Monkey Paw. “They were coming down for the Craft Brewers Conference and we decided to ask them if they’d bring their trailer down and can some beer for us. They were hesitant, but in the end we convinced them they decided it would probably be a good press thing to have that during the conference. So it was a cool opportunity.”
But cool opportunity or not, everyone knows that quality craft beer comes in bottles – right? Not exactly. While it’s been relegated to mainstream tastes like Coors and Miller for years, the can is coming back in a big way. Early adopters like Maui Brewing Co. have been preaching the benefits of cans for years, but now the method is catching on with bigger craft breweries like New Belgium and Oskar Blues as well as start-ups like Monkey Paw and Butcher’s Brewery. Of course, there’s just one question: why?
“Well, cans are more environmentally friendly,” explainsFreese. “They’re actually lighter so they’re easier to ship, which cuts down on cost. Cans are better for beer in the fact that bottles let in light, which is damaging to beer, so it’s a really great way to keep beer out of the light. All in all, it’s an amazing package.”
That all sounds reasonable. But if it’s true, why have the vast majority of craft breweries been avoiding cans like the plague for so many years?
“To be fair, the technology in cans was really kind of bad for a long time,” says Freese. “They were inconsistent with materials, and there wasn’t a lot of technology able to keep the metallic – aluminum doesn’t have a flavor, it’s a nonreactive metal, but a lot of times cans weren’t full aluminum so you’d get some tinny flavors from cans. But these days, cans are fully lined with BPA-free poly lining, so the can doesn’t ever actually touch the beer. The can is really just a vessel that holds the lining that protects the beer. So for a long time, cans were actually pretty terrible – the technology has really just caught up now.”
But now that technology is in our favor, it seems likely that it’s all up from here for canning over bottling. Do you think this is going to keep trending? I ask.
“Cans in general? Absolutely, without a doubt,” says Freese. “I mean, there are so many reasons why people will appreciate cans – I don’t think that many modern breweries are going to open up doing bottles anymore. I just think it’s not cost effective and it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like the wine industry moving to screwtops instead of corks – cork is unsustainable, cork is not good for wine over long term, and a screw top can keep it just as airtight now.”
Also, much like screw top wine bottles, beer cans are an awful lot easier to quickly crack open and enjoy. That’s always a good thing – sustainability and cost effectiveness are icing on the cake.