Here’s why tall cans dominate the handcrafted beer market

cost of living7:14How brewers came to love the tall can

Anyone who walks the beer aisles of your local liquor store will be familiar with the scene: Rows and rows of local craft beer, covered in distinctive and often colorful logos and art—all 473 ml (or 16 ounces) long. Cans.

The tall caddy—also known as tall, king, or pounder—is nothing new. Milwaukee-based Schlitz Brewing began selling them in the 1950s.

But it has become an increasingly popular size for craft beer, a category that has mostly eschewed the smaller 355ml cans and glass bottles in recent years.

According to brewers, the popularity of a tall can is more than just the appeal of eating more to drink per can.

Haydon Dewes, co-founder of Cabin Brewing Company in Calgary, says the cost of a tall can versus a short can is “negligible,” at least in terms of the additional aluminum required to produce it.

The real reasons have more to do with marketing, brand awareness, and craft beer trends going back at least a decade.

Haydon Dewes described the art atmosphere on Cabin’s Super Saturation New England Pale Ale as “modern nostalgia” with its stark lines and gorgeous font. Tall cans give brewers more space to explain their products to consumers. (cabin brewing company)

Tall cans help distinguish the artisanal product: the brewer

“We say: We are handcrafted beer, not big beer. We don’t put our beers in short cans and put them in a box of 36. This is an excellent product that comes in a four-pack,” Dew told Cost of Living.

Cabin’s website sells four main ales for $4.50 a can, and in four cans for about $17 to $18.

Dewes says the four cans of tall cans have become the standard for craft beer, due to long-standing expectations about the cost of cans of beer.

“The four packages are roughly the same size as the six,” he said, “and the cost is about the same as well.”

It also helps distinguish them from non-craft brands that sell smaller cans in larger quantities.

“Something, for better or worse, is completely exclusive about the four-pack. It’s like if you see a four-pack of tall cans, you know this is handcrafted beer. If you see a can of 12 short cans, your brain is telling you: ‘This is a beer’ With a limited budget. It should definitely be cheaper.”

Tall cans make up 80 percent of sales of handcrafted beer in Ontario, according to an email from LCBO. Meanwhile, short cans generate only about five percent of sales of handcrafted beer.

LCBO noted that tall cans are also popular among many non-craft beer brands, accounting for 60 percent of sales in that category.

Having more space can mean more real estate that needs to be covered with distinctive art and logos that make an instant impression and tell customers exactly what they are going to get.

“We also have to tell people what the name of that beer is, what kind, and also our brand, all in one place on the side of the cans,” said Pete Nguyen, partner and chief creative officer. At Edmonton’s Sea Change Brewing Co.

Pete Nguyen is Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Edmonton’s Sea Change Brewing Co. (Sea Change Brewing Co.)

“One and Completed” Appeal Request Sample

In the United States, at least, craft beer has had a hard time reaching consumers in recent years, says Bing Steinman, writer and president of US-based trade magazine Beer Marketer’s Insights.

This deviated from the tall cans, which are very well sold in small stores. He said they also let people have just one beer and feel good.

“I think it’s a fairly attractive price point, which is a unique feature,” Steinman said.

Craft beer folks are kind of like bird watchers. They just want everything. They want to be able to tag as many of them as possible.– Haydon Dewes, co-founder of Cabin Brewing Company

According to Dewes, individual selling also allows connoisseurs of beer to try several varieties at once.

“Instead of buying a can of 12 of the same beer, you can have 12 different beers,” he said.

“People who are skilled at making beer are kind of like birdwatchers; they just want everything. They want to be able to pick as many people as possible.”

Thank the alchemist

Dewes and Steinman pointed to Vermont-based Alchemist Beer, a Vermont-based brewer, for sparking the popularity of tall cans of handcrafted beer with their Heady Topper double IPA in 2011.

While most beers were released on a smaller scale in bottles at the time, Heady Topper came in a distinctive can with high-contrast black and silver art, and the instructions “Drink from the can!” Written along the top edge.

According to Steinman, this has generated an “enormous amount of uproar” among consumers who are “obsessed with crafts”.

Alchemist’s Heady Topper Double IPA is widely credited with popularizing the modern trend of craft beer served in tall cans. (The Alchemist/Facebook)

Alchemist co-founder John Kimmish was quick to note that the beer wasn’t the first handcrafted beer to come in tall cans, pointing to examples such as the California-based Torpedo IPA in the Sierra Nevada. But he certainly agrees with the assessment that Heidi Tupper catapulted the practice into widespread popularity.

Kimmich explained that many factors made the decision, including the fact that aluminum cans mean lighter transportation costs compared to glass bottles and broken bottles are potentially more dangerous than a crushed can.

But he said the use of tall cans also helped the Alchemist make a major statement about their brand.

“We’ve always wanted to be able to provide our customers with absolute world-class beer that is affordable and very fair, and serve it in the simple, finished blue collar container, which is a pestle.”

From tall to small

While the tall can approach has helped increase the popularity of craft beer, it may have alienated it from the classic beer consumer: someone looking for a big box of small cans that are easy to drink — responsibly — with multiples.

In recent weeks, Sea Change has begun releasing Blond Ale in 355ml cans in an effort to reach these customers. And according to Nguyen, this addition to its regular long pipeline could be a more expensive operation.

Sea Change Brewing Co. has released. Recently Classic Blonde Ale in a short 335ml bottle in an effort to reach a different segment of the beer drinking market. (Sea Change Brewing Co.)

“Our packaging costs are a lot higher for it, but we’re assuming it’ll give us market access…we could see us side by side like, like, 15 or 24 packages of a Budweiser or Molson product.”

It was also more work to adapt the art to the smaller cans, said Nguyen, who is one of the lead designers of all Sea Change stickers.

“You can’t just shrink it. So [we] We kind of had to reorganize some of the proportions so it felt like it was taking up the right amount of space in a small case.”