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Utah brewery has can-brew attitude

Published March 4, 2011 10:12 am

Brewing • Small brewing companies, such as Midvale's Bohemian Brewery, are proving aluminum is a worthy alternative to glass.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the battle between beer in a can and beer in a bottle, glass gets all the respect.

But a new batch of small brewing companies — including Midvale's Bohemian Brewery — are helping make cans a contender.

"We took canning on because it's better for the beer and better for the environment," said Pete Petras, who co-owns Bohemian along with his parents Joe and Helen.

Bohemian, at 94 E. 7200 South, was among the first U.S. brewers to join the beer-in-a-can revolution. In 2005, when the small brewery first packaged its signature Czech Pilsener in aluminum, there were fewer than 10 U.S. breweries using cans, Petras said.

Since then, Bohemian has added the Viennese Lager and the Cherny Bock Schwarzbier to its canned offerings. All three beers are sold in major grocery stores.

The craft of cans • Putting top-quality micro-brewed beer in what many perceive as a "low brow" container may have once seemed like a marketing mistake. Yet since 2002, when Colorado's tiny Oscar Blue Brewery used a table-top canning machine to put Dale's Pale Ale in an aluminum container, the packaging move has become an industry trend. Since then, the idea of canned micro-brewed beer has been catching on nationally.

Today, there are about 100 small breweries canning about 3 percent of all craft beer, said Julia Herz, the craft beer program director with The Brewers Association. The trend is so new, the national organization hasn't compiled numbers.

But anecdotally, according to Herz, the association argues that aluminum cans are taking hold. It even named the idea of canning craft beer as one of its hot trends for 2011. "Every month we hear of another brewery that is canning," she said.

There are other indications that cans are in. There's a website — http://craftcans.com — dedicated entirely to micro-brewed beer in a can. And two years ago, the International Canned Beer Festival was launched in Reno, Nev. CANFEST attracted more than two dozen brewers from the U.S. and several foreign countries in 2010. Bohemian Brewery was among them, winning a gold medal for its Viennese Lager.

Canned history • Canning isn't anything new, of course, as cans have been containers for everything from meat to vegetables and soda for some 200 years. The first cans were made of steel, rusting easily and giving food a metallic taste. That problem ended once companies switched to aluminum, and later, began lining the inside of the cans.

The first canned beer was sold in January 1935 by the Krueger brewery in Richmond, Va. Lightweight, inexpensive and easy to stack and ship, Krueger's canned beer was an instant success.

But for decades, canning equipment was so bulky, it was only economical for large companies that mass-produced beer to use it, Petras said.

"The machines were monstrosities, requiring 6,000 to 10,000 square feet of dedicated space," he said. "That didn't leave much room for small breweries."

During the last decade, canning equipment has become more compact, and companies that produce aluminum cans are willing to accept smaller orders. That opened cans to small microbrewers.

Once the equipment became more affordable and accessible, there was no reason not to forge ahead, Petras said.


Packaging perks • A can's tight seal and its opaque coloring protect hand-crafted beers from air and light — two of its three worst enemies — which can cause "skunky" beer. Heat is beer's third enemy.

"Beer is a live food product, and when UV light comes into contact with beer, it changes its molecular structure," Petras said. Even though green- or dark-colored bottles keep out some light, UV rays can still penetrate the glass.

The environmental aspects are another reason to favor beer in a can. The cans that Bohemian uses are made from at least 40 percent recycled material; they weigh less than glass, which reduces shipping costs; and they can be recycled easier than glass.

While the family's "mom and pop" operation has had to educate customers one can at a time, it has been worth the financial investment, Petras said. Since increasing its brewing capacity about two years ago, Bohemian has seen a 30-percent increase in annual sales. In 2010, Bohemian brewed 3,300 barrels of beer, and hopes to produce about 4,000 barrels this year.

A better fit • The can is "the perfect package" for beer, says Del Vance, a Utah beer expert.

"It's gotten kind of a bad rap over the last several decades," said Vance, the owner of Salt Lake City's Beer Hive Pub. "It's been associated with cheap beers and there's an urban legend that says the metal ruins the taste."

Vance, who chronicled Utah brewery history in Beer in the Beehive, believes more breweries in Utah will be switching to cans in the next few years. Cans are simply a better fit to the state's outdoor lifestyle.

"Canned beer is better for hiking, biking and skiing," he said. "You don't have to worry about them breaking."

On his last trip to Mt. Everest, famous Utah climber Apa Sherpa carried a can of Bohemian's Czech Pilsener and its Viennese Lager to the top of peak, making it the first craft beer be taken to the summit.

Canned beer is definitely a topic at Squatters Pub Brewery. A few years ago, the Salt Lake City brewery canned its Provo Girl Pilsner and Chasing Tail Golden Ale for the summer season, said Amy Coady, marketing director. The process was discontinued last year when the company expanded its production facility and began focusing on 750-milliliter bottles, 7-ounce slammers and 5-liter "chubby" aluminum kegs.

But Coady added: "We are certain to offer this type of product again soon."

kathys@sltrib.com —

Bohemian Brews

Bohemian Brewery, which specializes in making European-style lagers, is the only Utah brewery that packages and sells its products in aluminum cans. Here's what's available:

Czech Pilsener • A crisp, full-bodied beer made from Pilsen malt and yeast imported from the Czech Republic. The well-aged lager won numerous awards over the years, and owner Joe Petras names it his favorite beer. A good pairing with salads, seafood and other light fare. (Mike Riedel, author of the Utah Beer Blog, also lists it as one of the top five beers in the state.

Viennese Lager • An amber-colored lager with a roasted nutty malt flavor and hops. It has won various gold and silver medals from the North American Brewery Association, as well as a gold medal at Nevada's 2010 CANFEST. This versatile beer pairs well with all kinds of foods from spicy to savory.

Cherny Bock Schwarzbier • This dark-colored lager — Cherny (Cern√©) means "black" in Czech — smells and tastes rich. It has hints of coffee, chocolate and a gentle malt bitterness. It won a silver medal in the Schwarzbier (black beer) category at the Great American Beer Festival. Pairs well with barbecued meats and chocolate desserts.






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