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Courtesy: Oskar Blues

Aluminum cans are becoming more common at microbreweries.

Citing environmental advantages, microbreweries turn to cans

by Zach Stedt
Oct 13, 2010


Zach Stedt/MEDILL

Half Acre is the first and currently only Chicago microbrewery to can its beer.

In April, Chicago brewery Half Acre started selling its craft beer in aluminum cans making them the first, and currently only, Chicago area microbrewery to use cans instead of the more common glass bottles.

Gabriel Magliaro, the owner of Half Acre, said there were many benefits to using cans instead of glass.

“Cans are the best way for us to deliver our beer the way we want it. Especially for breweries like us that don't filter or pasteurize or use stabilizers,” Magliaro said. “It keeps the beer the way we want our customers to get it longer.”

While craft beer and aluminum cans might not seem to go together, Magliaro said they haven’t had any complaints and their beer has been selling out every week.  

Microbrewed beer in cans might be new in Chicago, but that isn’t the case elsewhere. Ask a person buying beer on the West Coast or in the Rockies about canning microbrews and they will probably be able to give you a whole list of small breweries that sell their beer in cans.  

Scott McCarty, a spokesman for Ball Corp., a Broomfield, Colo. manufacturer that produces aluminum cans, said cans are environmentally friendly because of their high recycle rate. In 2009, 57 percent of aluminum cans were recycled, the most of any year since 2000.

He said it was possible for aluminum to be recycled indefinitely without needing any more processing than merely melting the metal down and reusing it to make new aluminum.  

This efficient and reliable recycling process means on average 60 percent of the aluminum in a can is recycled, McCarty said.  

Ball was involved with getting microbreweries to start using cans, but McCarty gave most of the credit for the idea to Oskar Blues, a small Colorado brewery, which was the first small brewery in the nation that produced their own beer and sold it in cans.  

Chad Melis, a spokesman for the brewery, said in 2002 Oskar Blues was looking to distribute its beer locally and wanted to find a way they could do so.

People in Colorado tend to spend a great deal of time outdoors and are generally concerned about the environment, Meslis said. Oskar Blues thought those attributes would mean their customers would be receptive to microbrewed beer in cans and would appreciate their environmental advantages.

Melis said Oskar Blues also wanted to be on the cutting edge. But some consumers resisted buying and drinking craft beer in a can. Even today, Melis said some people are still skeptical.

Oskar Blues used grass-roots marketing to try to win customers over to the idea of craft beer in a can, Melis said. The company wanted to get its beer into people's hands so they could taste the quality for themselves to dispel any preconceived notions about canned beer.

“The beer and aluminum never come in contact. There is no exchange of flavors,” Melis said.  

The contents of the can and the aluminum don’t come into contact because of a liner that is added to the can during manufacturing. The liner does contain Bisphenol-A or BPA, a compound that has been the focus of some safety concerns.  

When asked about the presence of BPA in can liners, both Sean Reilly, a spokesman for the Can Manufacturers Institute, and McCarty said that the levels of BPA in the liner were low and that BPA was deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration.