Canned beer blows up

The proliferation of hoppy brews has spawned a packaging revolution

Nik Cvetich (left), head bartender and Eric Newell, manager, of Capitol Beer and Tap Room.

Nik Cvetich (left), head bartender and Eric Newell, manager, of Capitol Beer and Tap Room.

Photo by James Raia

Capitol Beer and Tap Room is located at 2222 Fair Oaks Blvd. (916) 922-1745;

Nik Cvetich was behind the counter one recent morning folding hand towels, corners perfect, stacks deep. The bottle shop and pub at Capitol Beer and Tap Room was quiet and it gave the bartender ample time to discuss aluminum cans. Cvetich and Eric Newell, manager of the nearly six-year-old establishment in University Village on Fair Oaks Boulevard in Sacramento, are both enthusiastic about canned beer.

The concept dates back to 1935. Gottfried Krueger Brewing in Richmond, Va., in partnership with the American Can Company (maker of tin cans), delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to faithful drinkers. Unlike bottled beer, consumers didn’t have to pay a deposit. A few years later, during World War II, U.S. breweries shipped millions of cans of beer to soldiers overseas.

In recent decades, with the proliferation of microbreweries and particularly hoppy beers with shorter freshness spans, distribution of beer in cans is back. Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colo., promotes itself as the original craft beer in a can. It began selling its flagship Dale’s Pale Ale in 12-ounce cans in 2002. The idea was to prevent light damage and oxidation and guarantee purity.

“Particularly with American ales, you really don’t want light,” Cvetich says. “It will diffract. It will mess up the hops. The residual will just be destroyed by the sun. That’s why cans are better. It just keeps the beer fresher and keeps it protected from the sun. It’s a little easier to cool and it’s little easier to store.”

In his short tenure at Capitol’s recently renovated shopping-center location, Cvetich has witnessed a drastic increase in canned beer buyers. It’s now about 75-percent-to-25-percent cans over bottles. (Capitol Beer and Tap Room is among only a few beer establishments with both off-site retail and on-premise drinking options.)

Newell remembers when it was difficult to acquire enough craft beer in cans to fill one of the bottle shop’s eight glass cases. Now, in the canned beer boom, there’s not enough space in all eight for the variety of choices available.

“I think there’s just something about having a can, maybe even culturally,” said Cvetich. “It gives people a different feeling than tapping a bottle. In the last two or three years, you’ve seen it where you have the big breweries like Sierra Nevada and Firestone that have forever put their beer in bottles now putting it in cans.”

The phenomenon has fostered “can release parties.” Beer fanciers wait for hours to taste a new batch of a specialty canned selection. Crowlers, filled-to-order large cans, the aluminum siblings to glass growlers, are another booming concept. Canned four-packs, sometimes a collaboration of beer from four breweries, have a following.

“Tell me. When have you ever seen a four-pack of different bottles?” said Cvetich. “Breweries want you to drink their products within three months, but ideally within a month. That’s why breweries are more in-your-face with it, ’Drink this fresh. Drink this fresh.’”