The craft can revolution didn't start in Portland, Oregon, but it's very much at home there now. PRNewsfoto/Rexam

Aficionados love cans because they better protect beer from light and oxygen—two of a brew’s greatest enemies.

For decades, U.S. beer drinkers have operated on the assumption that high-end, foreign brews come in bottles, while down-home, budget beers are packaged in flimsy, 12-oz. cans, the better for pounding and crushing.

Though the cheap stuff never really went out of style, America’s consumption of beer in metal cans showed definite signs of waning in the early 1990s, while bottled beer picked up in popularity—a trend that lasted pretty much right through the economic go-go years leading up to the financial crisis.

But when a preference for canned beer reasserted itself a few years ago, it wasn’t just that the recession had U.S. consumers falling back on cheaper options, or that hipsters were having a moment with the humble, blue-collar authenticity of cheap canned brews like Pabst Blue Ribbon.

There was another, influential group of consumers contributing to the trend, those who were propelling the U.S. craft-beer movement by spending a bit more for small-batch, higher-quality, domestic brews—these beers were and are increasingly being packaged in cans, too.

A photo posted by Russ Phillips (@craftcans) on

Craft brewers love cans because they better protect beer from light and oxygen—two of a brew’s greatest enemies. Light exposure is what makes beer “skunk,” or smell awful. Light penetrates glass bottles, even the dark brown ones, but it doesn’t go through aluminum cans. And unlike a bottle cap, the seal on top of a can doesn’t let any oxygen in or out.

Concerns about canned beer bearing a metallic taste, which once was a factor that made bottles more appealing, should be long gone now. Decades ago, when the cans were made of tin and lined with lead, that was a valid worry. Today’s cans are made from aluminum and have a water-based polymer lining, though, so the beer doesn’t even touch the metal.

American craft brewer Oskar Blues is credited with kicking off the craft canning trend in 2002, with the success of its Dale’s Pale Ale .

California’s Sudwerk Brewing Co. has just begun to package its signature craft lager in aluminum cans. The 25-year-old company has never done this before, but co-owner Trenton Yackzan said, in a press release, that “the time was right for us to join the legion of craft brewers who have begun putting some of their beers in cans.” Rexam, one of the world’s largest beverage canning companies, is manufacturing the pale-yellow-and-green Sudwerk cans. A few years ago, Rexam was doing this for just a few craft brewers; in 2014, Sudwerk is one of more than 40 such accounts.

sly fox topless beer can
There’s been plenty of innovation in aluminum beer packaging recently; 2013 saw bowtie-shaped cans from Budweiser,  Coors Light cans that changed color as they got colder, and a “topless” can from Sly Fox, with a peel-back lid that made drinking from the can more like drinking from a glass. (AP/Matt Rourke)

John Hargrove, an account director at packaging firm MVW in Richmond, Virginia, says the craft industry’s packaging preference is more about aluminum versus glass than it is cans versus bottles. Aluminum is recycled at a much higher rate than glass; it can be taken to venues—sporting events, campgrounds, beaches—where glass is not typically allowed; it’s not hard to manufacture in different sizes and shapes (the standard 12-ounce can is most popular, but brands can differentiate themselves with taller, shorter, or skinnier ones, as Red Bull has done); and it’s a better canvas for intricate designs than the paper labels wrapped around glass bottles.

A photo posted by Russ Phillips (@craftcans) on

People also perceive metal cans as being more conducive to ice-cold beer. In any case, though, most beer aficionados make a habit of pouring their drink into tall glasses for sipping, no matter whether it comes from a bottle or can.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

MORE FROM QUARTZ:

Why Cats Never Became Man's Best Friend

Twitter's Growth Strategy, as Expressed in Tweets

Why the U.S. is Breaking the Drug Laws It Has Forced the World to Live By

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.
    Environment

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  2. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  3. Graduates react near the end of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
    Life

    Where Do College Grads Live? The Top and Bottom U.S. Cities

    Even though superstar hubs top the list of the most educated cities, other cities are growing their share at a much faster rate.

  4. A man sleeps in his car.
    Equity

    Finding Home in a Parking Lot

    The number of unsheltered homeless living in their cars is growing. Safe Parking programs from San Diego to King County are here to help them.

  5. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.
    Transportation

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

×