Brewers Have Been All Bottled Up, But Now They're Canning It : The Salt Cans are making a comeback in the beer world. They're cheaper and lighter, and have an old-school cachet. But those ubiquitous bottles aren't going away anytime soon, say brewers.

Brewers Have Been All Bottled Up, But Now They're Canning It

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Canned beer - what does that make you think of? Milwaukee's Best Light? Schlitz? PBR? Maybe discount brands? Then again, maybe not. Cans are becoming a thing in brewing, no longer just for the bottom shelf at the convenience store. More and more fancy craft beer gets served up in aluminum cans. At member station WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Lewis Wallace has been looking into the trend.

LEWIS WALLACE, BYLINE: Belmont Party Supply is Dayton's craft beer emporium.

GUS STATHIS: So right now we're standing in our shop in Dayton, Ohio and you're surrounded by a whole bunch of beer.

WALLACE: Manager Gus Stathis is pointing to a shelf full of elaborately decorated sixpacks.

STATHIS: Amber ale, a doppelback, IPA, a regular wheat beer, you've got a porter, you've got a pineapple beer, you've got...

WALLACE: Now, cans are usually the vessel for the more watery, light beer - the cheapest kinds you can buy.

STATHIS: Cans kind of for the longest time had this huge stigma because all these awful beers came in cans, right? And all these rice lagers that nobody really liked or whatever.

WALLACE: Not that there's anything wrong with a four-dollar six pack, but the point is metal cans are now trending for the eight-dollar and up stuff. The number of craft brewers canning in the US has more than doubled since 2012. Can lovers say the benefits are endless. Beer in aluminum cools faster. Cans are lighter, easier to store, and no beer-degrading light passes through them. But let's look a bit closer at one of those claims - the idea that cans equal cold. Ursula Perez-Salas teaches physics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She says aluminum is a good conductor compared to glass, but that cuts both ways.

URSULA PEREZ-SALAS: It will cool faster, but it will also warm up faster. So that's the bottom line. There are other advantages to glass, which is once you get it cool, it will stay cool longer.

WALLACE: So your sweaty hand will heat up beer in a can. Then there's the price. The cans themselves are usually cheaper than glass, and the canning process is getting more convenient. There are even mobile canners now that drive from town to town, canning craft beer in small batches. Still, cans really haven't taken over yet. Julia Herz is with the Brewers Association.

JULIA HERZ: Not even 3 percent of the craft segment, basically, is canning.

WALLACE: Herz agrees there are some advantages to aluminum, but she doesn't think it's a real threat to the glass bottle anytime soon.

HERZ: Glass has been very reliable package, and tradition will prove itself well - that glass is not going anywhere.

WALLACE: There's a final sticking point. This is probably the most important reason why craft beer, which is all about flavor, tends to come in bottles. A lot of people think cans give drinks a metallic taste.

KATIE ALSIP: That perception is kind of dated.

WALLACE: Katie Alsip is the marketer for Rhinegeist, a new craft brewery in Cincinnati. She's with a co-owner Bob Bonder at the company's huge, sunny taproom. There are thousands of sleek, bright green and orange cans for beers called truth and cougar, stacked on pallets. Bonder shows off a video on his phone. It's the first day they ran the canning line.

BOB BONDER: We were all so happy. We were just standing by getting sprayed by beer.

WALLACE: Most cans these days are lined with a polymer coating that protects the beer from the metal and prevents any metal taste. Katie Alsip says beer in cans is just more convenient.

ALSIP: You can take cans a lot more places - you think about the pool, you think about the golf course.

WALLACE: People can easily bring a can camping or to the beach or, heck, just pop it open at work.


BONDER: Yes, cheers.

ALSIP: Cheers.

WALLACE: OK, that's probably only a good idea if you work at a brewery.

ALSIP: Oh, that tastes extra good right now 'cause it's so hot.

WALLACE: For NPR News, I'm Lewis Wallace.


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