To can or not to can.
That is the question confronting the largest craft beer breweries as sales of canned beers surge. Stella Artois and Sierra Nevada have already taken the beer-in-a-can plunge. Now Samuel Adams, the market leader in craft beers, has announced that it will offer canned Boston Lager this summer.
This is a critical move for brewers, as canned beer is making a comeback. Last year canned beers outsold bottled brews for the first time in more than a decade.
Canned beer was once the package of choice for beer drinkers. But the popularity of microbrews and premium beers in the early 2000s focused almost entirely on beer in a bottle. With that, canned beer was regarded as inferior.
Now, even those craft brewers who once sneered at their canned competitors have taken notice. Experts say the change is due to a number of factors, including cost savings and the sudden popularity of “hipster” beers, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon. Available only in cans, PBR has attracted a devoted young audience.
Samuel Adams and other craft beers must decide if moving to cans will damage their brands. Beer snobs have always maintained that bottled beer tasted better than the canned variety.
Craft beers have been making slow inroads into the overall beer market share. Beer consumption dropped 7 percent last year, yet craft brews grabbed a greater share of the market
There is a risk that with the addition of canned beer, premium craft brews will be seen as indistinguishable from Budweiser, Miller High Life and Coors Light.
That would be hard for the craft beer industry to swallow.