Beer Run

The Beer Run: Shedding a stigma

They are lighter, more environmentally friendly and far easier to stack and pack efficiently for shipping. When you’re camping or hiking in the wilderness, you can crush them and haul out the empties with ease.

Cans are all the rage in craft beer. It wasn’t long ago that a can of beer was considered cheap and not serious. Bottles were for the good stuff and cans were thought to impart a tinny note to the flavor.

But that’s changing, led by Sierra Nevada and a host of other forward-thinking breweries.

What’s behind the shift to cans? I spoke with Ryan Arnold, a spokesman for Sierra Nevada, about cans, craft and the future.

“Cans are one of our biggest areas of growth over the past couple of years. There’s no doubt there is a demand for it,” he said.

The Chico-based brewery (with a new brewery in North Carolina) introduced cans into its lineup in 2012 with 12-packs of Pale Ale and four-packs of the Torpedo extra IPA.

“Both have done extraordinarily well,” Arnold said, noting that the company also did a limited run of Summerfest in cans that sold out “at a shocking pace.”

No doubt some of that was because cans were new and had a cachet. But a new awareness has sunk in, too. For one thing, the cans are treated with an epoxy liner, so no aluminum actually touches the beer and sullies the flavor. Cans also keep out light – an enemy of freshness. Direct light can spoil a beer in as little as 15 minutes, Arnold told me.

“By the time we were introducing cans, there were already almost 200 breweries doing cans, and that number has skyrocketed in the past couple of years,” he said. Watch for 16-ounce cans of Pale Ale in four-packs to launch next week in all 50 states.

The newest all-can brewery will be in West Sacramento. When Yolo Brewing opens and ramps up production in the coming months, it will do all of its retail production in cans, owner Mike Costello told me.

Beer Week events

Plenty of exciting details are emerging for the Fifth Annual Sacramento Beer Week, Feb. 27-March 9. On the local scene, this is a time for pubs, restaurants and breweries to celebrate beer and perhaps tap into a new customer base. Tiny up-and-comers such as Hot City Pizza have used Beer Week to establishment a reputation as a serious craft beer destination.

Dan Scott, the force behind Beer Week, notes that in the first year the area had 11 breweries. Five years later, we’re up to 26.

Scott says the opening event will be the Sacramento Brewers Showcase on Feb. 27 at the California Auto Museum. Every local brewery has been invited to attend. In addition to serving their regular beers, each brewery will have the opportunity to take a base pale ale recipe and then put any twist on it they want, including use of their own yeast strains. For aficionados, that could be a fun way to taste through the flavor spectrum.

Beer Week’s closing event, Capital Beerfest, is now Capitol Beerfest because it has moved from CalExpo to the Capitol Mall downtown. That will be March 9 from 1-5 p.m. Tickets will be $40 or $65 (for earlier entry). A $75 VIP card will be available to attend the bookend events at this special price.

Uptick in market share

Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, has plenty of good news to report about 2013. The craft beer segment increased sales 19.2 percent last year and increased overall market share by .84 percent to 6.34 percent. It has been standard practice to talk about the craft beer segment to be 6 percent of the market.

Every tiny percentage point counts for big bucks, so don’t expect this number to soar without a fight from the industry giants.

Underscoring what we just said about cans, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale increased sales by 9.8 percent, according to consumer data, with 12-packs of cans up 68 percent, making for more than 10 percent of total Pale Ale sales.