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Cans? Low Buzz? What's Up With Craft Beer?

Stocks in this article: BUD HOOK

Russ Phillips, co-founder of canned beer website and database CraftCans.com, says more brewers are starting to feel Katechis' love of the can. The cans function as mini-kegs by sealing out more light and ultraviolet radiation than brown bottles, are lighter and easy to recycle and are now lined with a water-based polymer that ensures the beer inside won't absorb a metallic tang. As a result, Phillips says nearly 130 of America's more than 1,750 craft breweries are now either canning or planning to can their beers.

"It was the major beer geeks who once eschewed the idea of their favorite craft beers being put in cans, and you've really seen a shift on sites like BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer of beer lovers being OK and even preferring craft beer in a can," Philips says. "They've been around long enough for the folks that pick up different beers on a regular basis to have tried a few different styles in cans, and it seems the overwhelming consensus is 'Who cares if it's in a can? It's the beer inside that matters, and it tastes fresh and good.'"

Bigger craft brewers are starting to feel the same way and, in some cases, calling up Katechis and Oskar Blues for help. New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo. -- the maker of Fat Tire and Ranger IPA that cranked out 661,000 barrels last year to eclipse the amount produced by the Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD)-aided Craft Brewer's Alliance (HOOK) -- had some of Katechis' staff in last week and have been canning recently. North American Brewing's Vermont-based Magic Hat (332,000 barrels) and Brooklyn Brewing (108,000) are also canning, and craft heavy hitters including Chico, Calif.'s Sierra Nevada (786,000) and Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Bell's brewing (154,000) are planning to.

"I think the large and diverse flavors of craft-brewed beer will impact any preconceived notions that the beer drinker has about the type of package," says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. "Also, when someone sees a six-pack of cans priced as a subpremium lager and another six-pack of cans at a craft price, I don't think the expectations of what is in the craft can are the same for what is in the subpremium lager can."

Those canned beers take on an even more premium profile when Oskar Blues' high-octane Ten Fidy Russian Imperial Stout (10.5% alcohol by volume), San Francisco-based 21st Amendment Brewery's Black IPA (6.8%) and Aurora, Ind.-based Great Crescent Brewery's Bourbon's Barrel Stout (7.5%) push the limits of what's acceptable in aluminum. Oskar Blues' Katechis seemed pleased, though, when his in-state colleagues at Avery Brewing in Boulder began distributing their White Rascal Belgian Pale Ale in cans this summer.

"In the early days, they were really just calling to ask us how it was going, if it was real and how we did it," Katechis says. "Now I have a six-pack of White Rascal cans in my refrigerator right now and, the way I perceive it, the more people that get into canning beer and do a good job of it, the better off we'll all be."

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