Boston Beer isn't the only craft brewery pioneering a new design. Sly Fox Brewing has found a foolproof way to eliminate the glug-glug-glugging of a can being poured. The Pottstown, Pa., brewery recently became the first North American company to market a beer can with a lid that peels off completely, turning the can into a drinking vessel. Sly Fox has released two brands - Helles Golden Lager and Pikeland Pils - in the package.
Sly Fox's range extends into New York and New Jersey, and there are plans to expand into the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia by the end of the year. But the 360 End cans (as the peel-off design is called) will probably be limited to Pennsylvania. Brian Thiel, regional sales manager for Crown Cork & Seal (the can's manufacturer), concedes one major problem: anti-littering laws in 36 states might prevent the can's proliferation. Most of those laws were passed during the 1970s, when sharp-edged pull-tabs were lacerating bare feet and winding up in the gullets of wildlife. Thiel notes the 360 End can is designed to be environmentally friendly. Crown is promoting the can for use at ballparks and concert venues, where the lids can be collected and recycled. The cans also could reduce the need for disposable cups.
"If we had more lawyers on our staff, we'd try to get these laws overturned," says Tim Ohst, Sly Fox's brewery operations manager, with a laugh.
Another advance in canning is the number of sizes available. Indeed, breweries can now peg the volume of the container to the strength of the contents. San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery sells its potent Lower De Boom barleywine in 8.4-ounce mini-cans, perfect for a before-bedtime nip. Conversely, Oskar Blues in Longmont, Colo., and Brevard, N.C., recently released its lighter, more refreshing Mama's Little Yella Pils in 19.2-ounce "stovepipe" cans, ideal for a hot summer afternoon's quaff.
Oskar Blues, which fomented the revolution 11 years ago by releasing its Dale's Pale Ale in cans, is experimenting with a more radical package: a pint-sized metal bottle with a resealable screw-top cap. So far the brewery has released two beers in the container: Chaka, a Belgian-style pale ale, and the Deuce, a hoppy brown ale. (Both are collaborations with Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis.) Distribution has been limited to Colorado and Indiana, says Oskar Blues spokesperson Chad Melis, but the brewery would like to go national. The big obstacle is cobbling an assembly line to fill and seal the uniquely shaped cans. Oskar Blues has been packaging the metal bottles on a two-head manual filler, which can't spit out enough liquid for the brewery's 32-state territory.
But that's a problem even for many breweries sticking with the standard flat-top can. Heavy Seas is contract-canning its brands at F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, N.Y., which possesses a higher-speed packaging line. Seven Virginia breweries have deals with Old Dominion Mobile Canning, an Ashland company with a portable cannery, which can package up to 60 barrels in a day, according to the company's Web site. Owner Mike Horn says he hopes to line up 20 to 30 clients within the next two years.
"They did their first run with us," says Mitch Roessing, marketing manager for Wild Wolf Brewing in Nellysford, Va., which cans its Alpha Ale and American Pilsner. "We open the garage door, they slide the machinery in, we work six to eight hours. They pick it up, and the mess is gone with them."
"It's an easy way to dabble in canning without going into debt to buy a high-speed line," notes Josh West, operations manager for Devil's Backbone. And it's an avenue for even the smallest and newest microbreweries to join the rush to aluminum.