Beer cans big

San Diego breweries bypassing glass — aluminum becoming the rule

Underwater photo of Burgeon Beer's Trade Bait IIPA
  • Underwater photo of Burgeon Beer's Trade Bait IIPA
  • photo by Dennis Perez.

Last year, cans were trending in San Diego craft beer. This year, they appear to be taking over. Beer buyers at several local retailers report that consumer demand for six-packs have contributed to canned beers taking shelf space away from bottles. Nearly a third of the county's breweries have responded by adding cans to their retail lineups, and more than a dozen have bypassed glass altogether to exclusively package in aluminum.

Of 130 San Diego beer brands, 38 will have canned beer by the end of September; that number's up from 6 only three years ago. Bottles still hold the edge historically — 48 breweries have issued glass bottles for regular or occasional releases; however, half of those bottling have also moved into canning.

Many have done so with the help of mobile canning company Mobile West. Owner Matt Woempner says his company has canned beer for 28 local beer companies since he founded it in 2013 with a single client. "The West Coast was kind of slow in adopting cans," Woempner points out: East Coast breweries began trending toward aluminum in 2011.

Mobile West's business started to take off in late 2015 and now employs four mobile canning lines that contract with breweries throughout Southern California, Arizona, and southern Nevada. While the cost of preprinting label art on cans once proved prohibitive to the budget of some breweries, Woempner says the advent of shrink-wrap labeling has brought down cost and commitment. "The cost has come down eight or nine cents per can," he says.

Besides being cheaper, cans provide other advantages over bottles. "We prefer cans over bottles because they are a better vessel," says Burgeon Beer Company cofounder Matthew Zirpolo. "Cans let no light in, they create a better seal, and cool faster than bottles."

Since opening late last year, Burgeon has been part of a new generation of breweries bypassing bottles in favor of canned beer. Working with Mobile West, Zirpolo says demand has been high, and the brewery has sold out of every release, directly from its tasting room. "We are canning almost twice a month now," he says. "If the demand continues, we will look to purchase our own canning line down the road."

This week, Burgeon distributed cans to local bottle shops for the first time. So did another Mobile West client, Indian Joe Brewing. The Vista brewery, which returned to business this spring following a two-year hiatus, just canned for the first time.

"We are hoping for it to be a regular thing," says co-owner Geri Lawson. For the moment, Indian Joe is self-distributing to local retailers on a small scale, to test the market. "We need to get one under our belt," adds Lawson, "and streamline the process from there."

Not far from Burgeon, newly opened Rouleur Brewing Company will also start testing the packaged-beer market in September — with cans, not bottles. "I used to be against them," says Rouleur brewer and founder Rawley Macias. He says advantages include easier recycling, portability, and flavor stability. He plans to release two canned beers per month going forward, selling directly from his tasting room. "They make so much sense now."

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