Moor Beer Cos brewer Justin Hawke said cans used to have a "horrible reputation"

Moor Beer Co's brewer Justin Hawke said cans used to have a "horrible reputation"

In the beer category, the aluminium can was until recently considered the bastion of the big brand. Here in the UK, this continues to be the case: There are still stacks of them flanking supermarket entrances in all their 20x44cl pack glory.

But, then, there is another trend amongst cans: One that has an altogether different reputation that appears to be gathering pace.

Yesterday, the UK's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) lobby group recognised the first 'canned real ale'. For UK brewers looking to emulate the success of the US craft-in-cans phenomenon, this is important news. CAMRA carried out tests on Bristol-based Moor Beer Co's 'micro-canned' product, and found it to have the suitable properties to be termed a real ale. 

"The beer in Moor Beer cans still contained live yeast," said CAMRA. "Further test results showed that any carbonation was created by natural secondary fermentation."

Real ale in cans is a move that would not have worked a few years ago, according to Moor Beer's brewer, Justin Hawke. Until recently, he said, the format has had a "horrible reputation" in the country. "I moved to England [from California] because of my love for real ale," said Hawke. "When I made the decision to can our beer, there was only one way we were going to do it - fully can-conditioned with live yeast.

"We invested very heavily in our canning line and process controls to get it right, taking a huge risk by being the first to go down this path. Cans had a horrible reputation but, actually, it is the best package type for portability because it blocks all light and oxygen from getting in and ruining the beer."

CAMRA's recognition of the beer marks a major step away from consumers' perception of cans as representing the 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' image.

There is another important difference: Craft cans - including Moor Beer's - are generally smaller in size than the big-brand cans that consumers are used to. They also command a premium, meaning companies earn more money for less liquid. Here in the UK, for example, a four-pack of 44cl cans of Carling will cost you GBP3.50 (US$4.50) in supermarket giant Tesco. Meanwhile, four 33cl cans of Brewdog's Punk IPA retail at GBP6. That's GBP1.99 per litre of Carling, compared to GBP4.55 per litre of Punk IPA.

All of this may be good for the beer category, where the drinks can is clearly playing its part in driving craft interest. But, using the medium of packaging to convey the notion of craft in other drinks categories doesn't seem to be quite so clear-cut. Would you want your wine to carry crown caps?

Expert analysis

Global RTD insights - market forecasts, product innovation and consumer trends

Global RTD insights - market forecasts, product innovation and consumer trends

The Ready To Drink (RTD) or mixed drinks category added 20.2m cases in 2014 to reach 388.5m cases, up from just under 319m cases in 2010, representing a healthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5...read more