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Cans playing a larger role for small brewers

Cans playing a larger role for small brewers

After decades of dispelling the "bad-beer" perception and overcoming logistical hurdles, good beers
Cans playing a larger role for small brewers
Photographer: Judy Patrick

Beer cans are no longer the domain of just college parties and cheap 30-packs.

After decades of dispelling the "bad-beer" perception and overcoming logistical hurdles, good beers are more often being housed in homes better suited for their long-term protection: cans.

In fact, cans are superior to their glass cousins when it comes to preserving quality beers, many in the brewing business industry say. Cans simply let in less light and oxygen than bottles, protecting a packed beer from its two biggest enemies.

"The things that are bad for beer are light and oxygen and heat, and a can is a better option for keeping out light and air," said Rich Michaels, quality innovation manager for Saranac beers in Utica and a more than 20-year veteran of the brewing business. "Beer is going to hold up better in a can than a bottle. It's a slight difference, but its noticeable."

At some small breweries, including Big Slide in the Adirondacks, 32-ounce cans have replaced glass growlers as the way to take home the local brew. The process, in which the beer is poured and capped at the bar, is both functional and entertaining.

Michaels said that when Saranac, which has long offered canned options, gives blind taste tests of beers in cans versus bottles, the canned drinks perform better. But small brewers making complex and subtle beer of all kinds have run up against the long-held belief that cans are for cheap beers (no offense, Busch Light.)

Small brewers have also faced more practical logistical concerns pushing against more of a movement toward cans. Canning lines, the expensive machinery used to put beer into cans, have long been reserved for mass producers. It has also been much harder to purchase small batches of plain cans, and the cost of printing a certain logo on a can has been prohibitive.

The wave is beginning to shift on the logistical front as well, Michaels said. Some small brewers are turning to mobile canning units, which will bring the canning machinery to the brewery when a beer is ready to be canned. Smaller canning units are becoming more common and labels are moving to printed sleeves.

And consumers are starting to relate to the everyday advantages of cans over glass - taste wars aside. After all, those coolers at Saratoga Race Course are full of cans, not bottles (at least, that's the rule). The outdoors set that also like a quality brew will gravitate to cans if they are looking for a beer to bring along in their pack.

Just last week, Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park installed a new canning line at its brewery. The brewery, known for its kitschy designs and award winning beers, has only ever bottled its beer to date.

But beginning early next year, Capital Region beer drinkers will start to see a familiar logo appear on a new metal vessel. Starting with a hyper-local run of a 518 series -- three new beers that will only be sold in the region -- Shmaltz beer will finally be sold in cans. (One of the three will be a stout, but the others are still under wraps.) In the spring and summer, the brewery will release Slingshot American Craft Lager in 12-packs of cans.

"They are coming," said brewery marketing director Greg Chanese. "We have our local distributors lined up that are always looking for what's new, what's next."

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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