Long-time beer drinker Ross Lewis talks to the people behind our great brews and beer news.
Beer makers often come up with great ideas that are worth bottling.
For Australian Brewery’s Neal Cameron his best plans don’t end up in glassware. Cans are his choice of weaponry as his enterprise fights for a place in the crowded drinks market.
While Australians have for decades consumed mass produced lagers from metal vessels the suggestion that craft brewers put their beers in anything other than bottles had been taboo.
Not any more.
Cameron’s team has changed the belief that boutique producers have to can the can.
Australian Brewery has had considerable success with its Pacific Pale Ale, Pilsner, Extra Hoppy Ale, Mexican Lager, Rebel Rouser Amber Lager and Fresh Press Cider to the point where industry contemporaries are now quizzing Cameron about how they can can.
The stigma about cans has been dispelled in recent years as Mornington Peninsula and Mountain Goat have also adopted aluminium.
“I think the question is now why would you ever go in bottles rather than cans,” said Cameron as he prepared to ship a container of his brews to Japan. “There is no compelling argument we can find to go into bottles.
“From a quality perspective cans are obviously a lot better, they exclude light, you can pay about a quarter of the cost for the equipment to do the same quality job. Environmentally it is better because it uses 14 grams of aluminium as opposed to 220 grams of glass.
“We have a 40 per cent weight saving, a 40 per cent volume saving and a 40 per cent packaging saving.
“You have a similar rate of production with a kit that cost around $120,000 as opposed to $300-400-500,000 for a similar bottling line, which still wouldn’t give us the low oxygens that we want, especially for export.”
Americans have embraced canned beer. Sixpoint is one example. And as Australian Brewery has found with its Asian customers, Japanese drinkers prefer the tinnies.
Cameron knows because he and his crew have been feverishly working over the past few weeks to fulfill an order with Konishi Brewing Company in Hyogo.
“I think everyone is into their cans except the Aussies and Poms,” Cameron said.
“I’m sure the “tin taste” effect is a bit of an urban myth. I mean you don’t hear people complaining about the tinny taste in their Coke.”
The Sip has put the Australian Brewery’s Pale Ale to the test and there is no effect on the brew from being in a can. Indeed, if the examination team didn’t see the aluminium container in front of them they would have been none the wiser that the brew didn’t come from glass.
Craft brewers can struggle to get their products to new markets, especially because of the tyranny of distance in Australia making distribution an expensive process.
But cans have helped the Australian Brewery grow their brand, even against the big boys of CUB and Lionco.
“When you’re dealing with a low margin arena as we are in craft beer, it is tough gig our there, we do have to compete and every dollar saving makes a big difference,” Cameron said.
“We’re able to put a container load to Japan at 20 to 30 per cent less than what we would have had to do with bottles.
“It gives us the ability to be relatively competitive.”
Cameron revealed his team would be working with Murrays Craft Brewing and Feral Brewing on collaborative beers in cans over the next few months
“We’re going to do a Vintage Ale with Murrays just to prove the longevity of cans as well,” he said.
“Brendan (Varis from Feral) and I are going to put an Imperial Pilsner into cans. So even people like Brendan, who is one of the best brewers in the country, are all for it.
“They’re keen to try it out. Test the water so to speak.
“In two or three years time there will be 20 to 30 breweries canning.”