For its 21st birthday, Dogfish Head is getting cans. That's right, 12-packs of Dogfish's flagship 60 Minute IPA in cans have begun appearing in local liquor stores, meaning you no longer need a bottle-opener to chug a Dogfish at home. 12/2/16 Damian Giletto/The News Journal
When Twin Lakes Brewery was just getting started in Greenville in 2006, the owners made a radical decision in the burgeoning craft beer world: they were going to package their beer in aluminum cans, not glass bottles.
The longtime association of cans with non-craft beers and a metallic taste stigma made bottles the go-to package for most craft breweries.
Just ask Rob Pfeiffer, former longtime Twin Lakes brewer who now works as head brewer at Blue Earl Brewing Co. in Smyrna.
He was the one who had to explain to prospective Twin Lakes customers that cans do not affect the beer's taste.
"Oh my God, I can't tell you how many times I had to tell them it doesn't taste like tin. I just kept telling them, 'It's OK, I promise,'" says Wilmington's Pfeiffer. "It was a leftover perception from the old days."
Eleven years later, those questions have mostly evaporated as demand has risen for cans, especially from a younger generation of beer drinkers detached from past stereotypes.
While Twin Lakes was Delaware's first craft brewery to use cans, others came before them nationally.
Colorado's Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado started canning Dale’s Pale Ale in 2002, turning heads. And while cans picked up steam out west, Sly Fox Brewing Co. in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania helped bring it east in early 2006 when they began canning, several months before Twin Lakes.
Even so, bottles remained king for years until recently, when craft cans began to invade liquor stories nationwide.
As craft customers turned to canned beer, realizing that the protective coating used in modern cans protects the beer's taste from the aluminum, their popularity began to rise.
(In December, The News Journal conducted an in-house taste test when Dogfish Head released its first line of canned beers and our three taste-testers did not notice any major variations.)
Cans offer greater portability and take up less space in a refrigerator or recycling bin. And for beer companies, shelf space in liquor stores is easier to find with canned beers than the bulky, unwieldy bottled six-packs.
"Cans were always associated with big, national brands and were a very blue-collar-ish kind of thing, while the bottle was more elite, if you will," says Mark Edelson, co-founder and co-owner of Iron Hill Brewery, which began canning 16-ounce four-packs three years ago. "It's really exploded and craft cans have really rolled out enormously in the past decade."
Sales of canned craft beer jumped more than 200 percent from 2013 (5.6 percent of sales) to 2016 (17.2 percent), according to the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade group for small and independent craft breweries.
In recent months, the switch to cans in The First State has been swift.
After 21 years of bottles, Milton's Dogfish Head Brewery began to add cans to its line of beers in November, starting with its best-known brand: 60 Minute IPA. Since then, other flavors have been added, including Flesh & Blood IPA and SeaQuench Ale.
And in May, they upped the ante by announcing both 60 Minute and SeaQuench were now available in super-sized 19.2-ounce cans.
Last month, the Lewes-area Crooked Hammock Brewery announced its first cans as well: Actively Fishing, its Czech pilsner, and the coconut ale Wai Ola are now available in six-packs.
Other Delaware breweries offering cans include Milford's Mispillion River Brewing, the Rehoboth Beach-area Big Oyster Brewery and Delmar's 3rd Wave Brewing Co., which began canning last spring and is currently preparing its seventh release.
Wilmington's Brian Marine says he prefers to drink from cans, not only because they're compact, but because he believes the taste is closer to beer straight from the keg.
"When Oskar Blues started the whole craft can revolution, I kind of laughed at first. And then the first time I tasted Dale's [Pale Ale] in the can, I was like, 'Oh yeah!'," says Marine, 51. "I'm really surprised it took everyone else as long as it did."
The advent of mobile canning trucks — companies that bring canning lines right to breweries — have made it easier and more cost effective for smaller breweries to get into the canning game.
Without a bottling line of their own, Jon Schorah, brand development manager and brewer at Crooked Hammock Brewery, says their decision to go with the trendy cans was an easy one.
Plus, as a brewery at the beach, being able to bring cans of beer on the beach is a must. (Bottles are banned in all areas of Delaware State Parks, but cans are not).
"With the mobile canning company, they come in with the machinery and do all the packaging. They bring everything to us," Schorah says.
With more and more beer cans filling refrigerated coolers at liquor stores and beer distributorships, it seems that everything old is new again — just like the resurgence of vinyl.
And like LPs, customers are drawn not only to the content, but the packaging.
These ain't your grandpappy's chunky old cans printed in red, white and blue. Breweries are investing in eye-catching artistic designs for their cans, popping with vibrant colors and funky imagery.
Mispillion's cans especially take full advantage of the new design space with playful designs to match the playful names of their beers, such as Holy Crap!, Not Today Satan IPA and Reach Around IPA.
"Great packaging is part of great marketing. It allows you to extend your brand," says Iron Hill's Edelson. "And since most can labels are a full wrap, they're lot larger than a bottle label and allow you to really express your brand."
At Blue Earl, owner Ron Price began producing his beers in bottles for the first time last year.
So far, they haven't made the leap to cans, but brewer Pfeiffer predicts it won't be long.
"I'd say we go that way," he says. "There are so many benefits. Cans keep out ultraviolet light, which kills beer. Plus, if you take it to the pool, you won't have to worry about dropping it in the hot tub and breaking glass if you pass out."