Restaurants, bars putting canned beer back on the menu

Restaurants, bars putting canned beer back on the menu

Exploding the myth that only cheap suds come in aluminum, a growing number of bar and restaurant operators are promoting high-quality craft and import beers in cans. According to those in the know, cans are kinder to the beer and gentler to the planet than glass bottles and fetch a premium price to boot.

“There’s a nice trend going on,” said Samuel Merritt, president of Civilization of Beer, a New York City-based beer consultancy. “You see a lot of bars now that have their draft list, their bottle list and their can list.”

Compared to bottles, cans protect beer against damaging light and air far better, chill faster and are lighter to ship and easier to recycle, making them “just the best way to get beer,”  Merritt said.

At Culinary Dropout, a gastropub in Scottsdale, Ariz., a section of six Aluminum Ales stand out on the beverage list. Included are a $10 can of Ten Fidy stout from Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery and imports like Bavik pilsner from Belgium and Boddingtons English ale, priced at $5.75 and $6.50, respectively.

“Beer in a can, the consumer is starting to dig it,” said Regan Jasper, director of hospitality and beverage for Fox Restaurant Concepts in Scottsdale, which numbers 28 units. “We have had some people just come in and just ask what we have in a can.”

At The Southern in Chicago, Bombshell Blonde ($5), an American blonde ale from Southern Star Brewing Co. in Texas, is one of the best-selling brews of the Southern-themed restaurant.

“Our goal is to carry Southern beverages, and the fact that it comes in a cool can and that it is a great beer makes it that much easier to sell,” said general manager Evan Traub. “It’s in a very hot-looking can, kind of sky blue with a girl on it.”

Sporting more than 60 cans is the aptly named Cans Bar & Canteen, a bar-eatery with locations in Chicago and Milwaukee. In Chicago, the selection ranges from mass-market brews with retro appeal like Pabst Blue Ribbon (16 oz., $5) to imports like Poland’s Okocim ($16 oz., $6.50) to cult craft brews like Ska Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale ($4.50) from Colorado.

“People actually make their way here just to drink the Modus,” said Cans general manager Bryan Burrow. “It is hard to find because a lot of bars just don’t carry cans.”

He said he has witnessed a dramatic improvement in the image of canned beer in the eight years that Cans has been in business.

“We started this as a retro thing, harkening back to the days perhaps when you were in college and the cheapest beers were in cans,” said Burrow. “But in the last four or five years, the number of craft brewers canning has blown up and actually opened up the market for us to carry more beers.”

Today, somewhere between 100 and 150 U.S. craft breweries are canning and the number is rising, said Chad Melis, marketing director of Oskar Blues Brewery, one of the first to can its brews in 2002. Since then, the can has become a hip way to order beer.

“Part of what is hip about it is that it’s kind of outside the box,” said Melis. “It’s not status-quo thinking. It’s like you know something that somebody else doesn’t know.”

Still, it’s possible to joke about the old cheap-suds stigma. At Culinary Dropout, the best- selling SKU on the beverage list is the Paper Bag Special, consisting of a can of budget-priced beer served in a brown paper bag, priced at $1.95.

“It makes fun of everyone’s perception,” said Jasper.

No laughing matter is the fact that aluminum cans are lighter and more space-efficient to store than bottles.

“We can ship 100 cases of cans per pallet versus 60 cases of bottles, thus, it lessens our carbon footprint,” said Melis.

Added Burrow, “If I had to store all the beer that I have now in bottles, I probably couldn’t fit 50 percent of it in the coolers.”

Also sold on metal-clad brews is bar manager Darcy Kniefel of the Spenard Roadhouse in Anchorage, Alaska, who includes 15 cans in her beer program.
“I carry every decent canned beer I can get up here,” said Kniefel.

“If someone says, ‘Ew, canned beer,’ I give them the canned beer challenge,” Kniefel said. “I’ll pour them one out of the tap, one out of the bottle and one out of the can and have them taste. They can never tell the difference.”