Yesterday we talked about our decision to review our year-round beers this upcoming year. One of our other major goals will be to make a shift from bottles into cans.
Drinking when you want, where you want
Since our inception, we have had a tiny little bottling machine sitting on our brewery floor. For the first couple of years while we sold everything in keg, it gathered dust. When we finally put it to use, we started slowly, but over the past two years, and especially in 2020, that machine and the brew team operating it have been stretched to their limits. We have known for some time that we needed a higher spec, reliable, and larger scale system but we had to make a call on sticking with bottles or moving to cans.
Cans have appealed to us for some time and a huge part of us has been really keen to move ahead and make the switch. It is one decision, however, that required a fair amount of head scratching. Doesn’t beer taste better out of a bottle? Will restaurants buy cans? Don’t canned beers taste of metal!? They’re cheap, right?
Having seen changes to the market overseas, and having done plenty of research ourselves, we have come to the conclusion that, not only do cans have many advantages in terms of convenience and by carrying a lower carbon footprint, beer also tastes at least as good out of a can as it does out of a bottle.
While bottles have long dominated high end beer lines in Japan and indeed around the world, the shift from bottles to cans in countries like the US, the country largely credited with kickstarting the modern craft beer movement, is impossible to ignore. According to a 2017 report by the American Brewers’ Association, in 2010, cans made up just 2-3% of total craft beer volume (bottles, meanwhile represented 15%). By 2016, can sales of craft beer were almost half the amount of bottle sales. This year marks the first year that cans are projected to outsell bottles. Mind you, this is just CRAFT beer. Not Budweiser, not Miller, and not even “crafty” beer made by subsidiaries of big boy makers.
What has made these companies change their direction, and, more importantly for KBC, why do we want to make this switch? Well, of course there is the fact that cans are less breakable, lighter, easier to stack, and easier to carry. In our last blog post, we talked about access and this is something important to us. Cans are easier to get around the country, take less space to store, are easier to carry home from the shop, and easier to carry to the beach, riverside, mountain or friend’s house. Having beers in cans makes it easier to have our beer when you like, wherever you like.
What else? Another big thing is the cost of transportation. Of course this can be looked at as a financial cost, which is important, but then there is also the environmental cost. Transportation uses fuel, which has an environmental impact. The heavier the items being shipped, the heavier that carbon footprint will be.
In addition to environmental, shipping cost and convenience reasons, however, there is naturally the conversation of quality. Beer tastes better out of a bottle, right?
Well, actually, no. Many people still believe fervently in a “metallic” taste when drinking from a can. While we can’t 100% argue that when you put your mouth to a can you aren’t tasting the can, we can say that there is a thin coating between the beer and the can and the beer in the can therefore never touches the metal. When you pour that beer into the glass, there should be no taste of the can in the glass. In fact, there are numerous reasons as to why that beer in the glass may well actually taste better having come from a can.
Why? Well, the ability to form a full seal and block out light are two aspects. Light damages beer, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as a “skunky” off flavour. Of course, most craft beer breweries choose brown bottles which allow less light in, but this does not a complete block. If that bottle has sat for a month in a showcase fridge in a bright room, the chances of light having zero impact are small. Cans block 100% of the light. Furthermore, cans also provide a full seal, meaning that there is no additional oxygen getting into the beer and also no loss of carbonation from the vessel either. While bottles provide a good seal, it is not complete in the way that a properly sealed can is.
Of course, we understand there are advantages to bottles. A cold bottle next to a glass is an appealing sight, and certain types of beer, such as bottle conditioned beers, naturally require bottles. We do plan on having limited bottling for the purpose of such benefits (why restrict ourselves from the ability of doing more fun things with beer!?). In general, however, we are sold on cans, and look forward to selling our year-round, seasonal, and many of our other beers in can format as well.
We recognise that it takes time to change people’s minds but we are determined to help that market shift from bottle to can in Japan. Cans offer great quality, can easily be taken to whichever spot you want to enjoy your beer, and they carry less of a carbon footprint than bottles do.
In our next Business Update, we will talk about “Kyoto love” through the importance of community, and valuing the town in which we are based.