09 July 2008

Can We Do It? No We Can't

From the mailbag:
The 4th of July party we go to is BMC* city. No bottles allowed if you're bringing your own, either. We also spend time kayaking, camping and being near the water - all glass free activities. Why can't I find a decent canned beer in this town? I can't even get Pilsner Urquell in a can anymore. Mike at Crown told me that Monarch stopped carrying it. World Class, hear my plea, "I want to at least be able to buy a decent beer in a can".

...and the next person that says I can get Tecate in a can is gonna get drop kicked in the junk.

There once was a time when you could get better than decent beer in a can in Indiana. When we visited Warbird, Owner/Brewer Dave Holmes showed us his beer in cans and said that he found that Indiana consumers weren't interested in paying craft beer prices for beer in a can. So he sold off that equipment and went to bottles. If you're looking for canned beer, it appears your options are Young's Double Chocolate (not exactly a kayaking sort of beer) and Belhaven Scottish. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that we'll see more decent canned beer in Indiana any time soon.

I asked our distributor friends about the can shortage and the complications involved in carrying cans. World Class' Bob Mack:
We talk about cans a lot and in reality, we like cans because of their portability and potential use in situations where bottles are prohibited. They are also easier and cheaper to transport! $5 a gallon diesel fuel is a great incentive for us to move towards cans, but while we’d love to have them very few breweries in the craft/micro world sell canned beer.

There is most definitely a consumer perception that canned beer is not as high a quality as bottled beer. I think that perception is based on the idea that canned beer, years ago, would taste metallic because of the beer coming in contact with the metal. These days beer and soda cans are lined in such a way that prevents the beer from coming into any metal, but the perception still exists.

There are not really any complications for the distributor in selling canned beer, but there are plenty of complications for the brewer because it is pretty expensive to operate a canning line in addition to a bottling line. Brewers have had to face the harsh reality that consumers, in general, are more supportive of bottles than they are cans despite the facts that cans have a lot of advantages like being easier to ship, more protective of the beer (no light gets to the beer at all!) and more eco-friendly as can material is much easier to re-cycle than bottles. In short, it would be a significant, additional expense for a brewer who is already bottling to make beer available in cans. Some brewers who do choose to do cans, like Oskar Blues, do only cans and not bottles since they cannot afford both a canning and a bottling line.

Longer term, there are some really good beers available in cans in other parts of the country that we would love to have here in Indiana. Surly and Oskar Blues are probably the most notable ones out there at the moment, but Surly doesn’t have anywhere near enough beer to be in the Indiana market anytime soon and despite adding a new production facility at Longmont a couple of months ago, Oskar Blues told me as recently as last week that they would not have enough beer to support the Indiana market until the first or second quarter of 2009. New Belgium also started producing Fat Tire in cans a short time ago, but they are also not likely to be able to support the Indiana market until well into next year.

I appreciate Rob’s plea and I would love to help him out, but we just don’t have many canned beers available to us to sell at this point.
So, Rob, there's your answer. I'd stick to soda.

*BMC = Bud Miller Coors for the uninitiated.


  1. excuse me, but are we forgeting that bud chelada and bud light chelade with a hint of lime are available in four packs!

    In all seriousness good craft beer in a can doesn't come this way much, but we are supposed to be getting New Belgium early next year and they can, and with the expansion of Oskar Blues I am hoping they come to Indiana as well. Cans of Dale's Pale ale are great for the summer.

  2. I think you can still get Murphy's Irish Red in a can, which is a great beer and wouldn't be inappropriate for outdoor activities. As to Warbird, I thought they had kept the canning going with the red ale. Must have missed that one.

    I really wish we could get Ballantine Ale here in Indiana. Out on the east coast you can get it in pint cans and it is a great every day style of beer. And it used to be brewed in Ft. Wayne. Maybe someone can put Bob Mack to the question about getting some of that trucked in?

  3. You guys really need to lobby Oskar Blues to bring their lineup to Indiana. Hands down the best canned beer in America.

    I've experienced the same frustration when in town for the 500 - very little good beer in cans. The two major auto races in Indy alone would be enough to create a major demand for their products, and they tend to distribute in such areas where outdoor activities are popular.

  4. Don't forget Bitburger.

    Always a great choice for the summertime in a can and even Mini-Kegs.

  5. You can buy cans of Bitburger and Oranjeboom at Trader Joe's. They are great for non-bottle activities.

  6. I would add Boddingtons to the list of acceptable canned beers. While it won't knock your socks off, at least it's a light but more flavorful ale than the BMC beers. Before I got into bigger beers, Boddingtons was one of my go-to beers for summertime tailgates.

  7. I was a Parti-pak liquors down at Stop 11 just east of Madison tonight (I think they call it Discount liquors now). Among the ales in cans I also saw Bitburger and Pilsner Urquell.
    (I was there buying Moorhouse Black Cat and some english brown ales and some Pyramid Apricot for my lady friend)

  8. it's had that discount liquors sign forever, but as far as I know it's still Parti pak. Or Party Pak.