May 17--Summit Brewing Co. will be serving up beer in cans next week, joining the growing ranks of craft brewers that have moved beyond the bottle.
Summit's new canning line is churning out three of the St. Paul brewery's offerings -- Extra Pale Ale, Saga IPA and Summer Ale -- in 12-ounce aluminum cans. They'll supplement traditional bottled versions of the same brews.
Craft brewers have long stuck mostly to bottles. Cans were seen as containers for mainstream beer, the target of the craft brewing revolution. But cans have become increasingly popular in the craft industry in recent years.
Minneapolis-based Surly Brewing made its name in cans, as well as on tap, while Duluth's Bent Paddle Brewing extols the virtues of cans on its website. New Ulm's Schell Brewing has been dipping deeper into cans over the last year for its craft brews, too.
"There was this myth that beer in a can wasn't quite as good," said Eric Shepard, executive editor of the trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights.
Bottles still rule: Recent surveys show that canned beer makes up 4 to 5 percent of the craft market. But that's up from 2 to 3 percent just a few years ago, according to the Brewers Association, a craft trade group. And canning lines entail significant investments.
Last year, the largest U.S. craft brewer, Boston Beer Co., rolled out the first canned version of its flagship Sam Adams lager. The nation's second-largest craft brewer, California-based Sierra Nevada, started up a canning line in 2012. There's even a website, CraftCans.com, devoted to canned craft beer.
For beermakers, cans provide an economic advantage over bottles because they are lighter. "Your freight costs are actually lower," said Mark Stutrud, Summit's founder. Indeed, an aluminum beer can weigh only about one-sixth of a glass bottle.
Plus, cans can be a packaging safety valve. Stutrud said there are only two major U.S. beer-bottle makers, but about six can producers. Summit gets its cans from the St. Paul plant of
Summit pioneered craft beer in Minnesota in the mid-1980s, and today is the country's 23rd-largest craft brewer as measured by sales volume, according to the Brewers Association. Summit's new $3 million-plus canning line fills a hole for the brewery.
"When it comes to canned beer, it's part of the market we're missing," Stutrud said. There are outdoor venues where glass bottles are less appropriate. "You don't want to have glass in the boat," he said.
Or on the beach or maybe the golf course, said Kyle Marti of Schell's. "In the summertime, there are a lot of places you can go with cans that you can't go with bottles."
Schell has just released its Zommerfest beer in a limited-edition can co-branded with Minnesota Public Radio's "The Current" (89.3 FM).
Schell's plans a canned version of its Goosetown summer seasonal beer. It will join Schell's Shocked, another summer offering that was canned last year for the first time. And in June, Schell is scheduled to release Arminius, a year-round hoppy lager, in cans only.
As for Summit, it will can its two most popular beers, Extra Pale Ale and Saga IPA. In addition to its Summer Ale, Summit plans to can other seasonal brews, including its Oktoberfest and Winter Ale.
Mike Hughlett -- 612-673-7003