COLUMBUS — When Sideswipe Brewing celebrated the release of Mojoflo at its West Side taproom on July 13, it served the hoppy amber ale in cans.

Craft brewers traditionally have used bottles, which have long differentiated premium beers from their cheaper, mass-produced peers. Sideswipe, however, uses only cans.

It’s not alone. Brewers said the canning trend began in earnest roughly two years ago, resulting in a noticeable increase in the 12-ounce aluminum offerings in the beer section in your local grocery store.

Bottles are still king, but craft brewers are using cans as they never had before.

“Five years ago, when we were opening, people were still under the guise that premium stuff is still in the bottle,” said Mark Richards, Land Grant Brewing’s director of operations. The Franklinton brewery uses only cans.

But Richards said those days are over. He and other craft brewers say the reasons range from taste preservation to marketing.

Platform Beer co-owner Paul Benner said canning was a matter of convenience. Platform, which has a downtown taproom, didn’t have bottling or canning equipment when the brewery started in 2014. It hired a mobile canning company because mobile bottling was unavailable.

“That let us get our product on the shelves right away,” Benner said.

Ultraviolet light degrades the taste of beer, brewers said, a process they call “skunking.”

“Most beer bottles are already dark, but they still let in a little bit of light,” said Collin Castore, brewmaster for Seventh Son Brewing Co. in Italian Village. Aluminum cans hold the sun’s rays at bay, preserving the flavor, he said.

From a marketing standpoint, cans allow for more creativity, brewers said. A bottle wrapper allows for a small graphic and perhaps a few words, but creative designs and catchy slogans can cover the entire surface of a can.

“We put every ingredient on every single can, and that takes up a little bit of real estate,” Benner said.

In contrast, Elevator Brewing owner Dick Stevens prefers to use the space on the cardboard six-packs that his bottles are shipped in, which he said gives his brewery more room for the colorful designs that distinguish its products.

“There’s the argument that beer is more stable in a can, which in the right circumstances is probably true,” Stevens said. “But I like the fact that in the market, I have a lot of visibility for my brand with a carton sitting on the shelf.”

Brewers are finding that more customers want to take their beers to cookouts, on camping trips or to the beach, and they worry that glass bottles could break.

“Cans are definitely easy to carry,” Castore said. “They’re lighter-weight.”

Retailers also prefer cans because they can be stacked, Sideswipe owner and brewer Craig O’Herron said. “They can fit more in the same space, and it’s really easy to make displays with cans rather than bottles,” he said.

Richards expects the canning trend to continue.

“I would think that, at least for the foreseeable future, cans are where it’s at,” he said.

Even as the canning trend proliferates, some local breweries still find bottles more practical.

“We tried canning” with the Bleeding Buckeye Red Ale beer, Stevens said. “But we never got any traction in the market.”

Customers seemed to shy away from it, he said, so Elevator has stuck with bottles since.

Buckeye Lake Brewery uses short, stubby beer bottles, which makes its products stand out in the beer section, owner Rich Hennosy said. The brewer said no variety was available in cans.

Zaftig Brewery in Worthington still uses bottles.

“Canning lines seem to be getting better,” owner Jim Gokenbach said. But he worries that cans still let some oxygen into the beer, which degrades the taste.

Zaftig brews full-bodied beers such as stouts that need to age, and bottles do a better job of keeping air out, Gokenbach said.

 

pcooley@dispatch.com

@PatrickACooley