Shortly after Lonerider began canning its beer this summer, owner Sumit Vohra encountered a skeptic at the brewery’s bar.
The man told him: “I drink beer from a bottle. I would never drink it from a can. Beer didn’t taste good in a can.”
Vohra poured four small pints, three from draft and one from a can. He challenged the man to identify the one from a can. “He emphatically – twice – pointed to different beers and said that one is from a can,” Vohra recalled in a recent interview. “He was wrong both times.”
The anecdote reflects the antiquated perception of beer in a can – one the craft beer movement is quickly dispelling as more brewers make the shift away from bottles.
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Lonerider began the transition this summer with its first cans hitting shelves in July. The brewery first employed a mobile canning operation and its new canning line is scheduled for installation this week.
In making the move, the 5-year-old Raleigh brewer joins a growing list of North Carolina and national craft breweries that embrace the stalwart can, such as NoDa Brewing in Charlotte and New Belgium in Colorado.
In Kinston, Mother Earth’s Trent Mooring distributes his main beers in bottles but uses cans for his spring and summer seasonals. It fits the outdoor lifestyle, he said, and allows consumers to enjoy the beer at new venues, whether the beach, pool or golf course.
“We basically got tired of having to carry glass,” said Mooring, who along with co-owner Stephen Hill enjoys outdoor adventures and boating. “That’s really the reason we did it.”
The craft-to-can movement also is evaporating the notion that beer in glass bottles is better tasting and aimed at a certain demographic. It helps that retailers are making more room for cans on the shelves.
“Any new brewery that is coming along now, you will see them mostly in cans,” Vohra said. “The economics makes sense and the market approach makes sense.”
Dispelling another myth, cans actually preserve beer better. Unlike cans, glass bottles allow light to reach the beer, which can alter the flavor.
The other advantages for brewers include cost – it’s cheaper to buy and ship cans. Not to mention that glass breaks easily.
One challenge for Lonerider was translating its labels to cans. The brewery’s bottles featured intricately drawn western characters and bold colors.
The can is a limited palette, so Lonerider had to purchase a higher-end graphics machine to put the characters on the can and slightly tweak the colors.
Another change: Lonerider is moving its specialty beers, once sold in 22-ounce bottles, or bombers, to cans. Vohra said he is looking to package them in 16-ounce tallboy cans to help them stand out.
Despite a few skeptics, Vohra said nearly all the reaction from consumers so far is positive.
“It’s actually really hard to tell in a blind test that a beer tastes different,” Vohra said. “When the metal touches your lips you do have a different thing that gets evoked in your head, but overall beer is the same.”
What I’m tasting
Lonerider is releasing a new beer in October named Eve. It’s a session amber ale at 4.2 percent alcohol by volume. “Sometimes you need something with a little less alcohol,” Vohra said.
Vohra offered me an early preview. What isn’t sacrificed is taste. Eve maintains a rich caramel malt flavor without being too heavy or potent, making it a great beer for fall tailgate parties and a nice alternative to the darker seasonal stouts and porters.