Snapshot – Packaging
The WHOLE PACKAGE in a (beer) NUT SHELL
Which is better for a fine craft beer, a bottle or a can? The third choice is to prefer good beer served fresh out of a returnable stainless steel keg. When a beer is draft-only or a beer-appreciator is leaving a brewery after trying something delectable, some beer equivalent of a Chinese food take-out box is in high demand.
First came the growler, a modern take on an old world practice of using refillable jugs. Glass versions keep beer fairly cool for a time, and can be cleaned and refilled again and again. Remembering to bring them, and carrying them without shattering, is another matter. And putting beer into glass bottles of any size can result in an unwanted surprise: beer exposed to light gets skunky. Literally! The same compound sprayed by those striped rascals of the forest is produced when light interacts with a hop compound in beer. Thankfully, dark amber colored bottles do a fairly good job of filtering out harmful light—but don’t leave that six-pack in the sunlight before chilling and drinking.
Designers stepped in with sleek high-tech stainless steel growlers, solving the light-struck, temperature (thanks to double-wall insulation) and delicacy problems, though those beauties often come at princely costs. Like their glass cousins, they tend to hold a lot of beer—a potential problem when there’s not a party going on. Once a container is opened, carbonation is lost and air, which causes staling, gets in. The result is an unhealthy dilemma—drink all the beer at once, or settle for flat, stale beer the next day. Since some breweries will only fill their own branded growlers, many a beer fan bemoans having to store so many independently branded containers from the various breweries they visit.
Enter the Crowler, increasingly embraced by brewery taprooms selling take-home draft beer. These burley 32-oz. cans provide to-go beer in small light-blocking, air-tight, recyclable containers that keep beer fresh and carbonated for weeks compared to glass and steel growlers. They have become increasingly popular locally and nationwide. Newer Bay Area breweries in particular—Laughing Monk Brewing Co., Barebottle Beer Co., Farm Creek Brewing Co., and many more—are making the most of their appeal.
And where did craft beer cans come from? Cans were first put forward for beer in the last century, and embraced by the major lager manufacturers, giving the package a mainstream stigma in the early days of the craft revolution. Cans are lighter to ship, easier to stuff into the fridge, less fragile and highly portable—perfect for drinking poolside or taking on a hike.
No surprise, then, that craft cans emerged in 2004 out of Colorado, a state equally know for its passion for the outdoors, or that the Crowler, too, was invented by Colorado’s Oscar Blues Brewery in 2013. Today Bay Area beer bottle shops now offer so many of these colorful containers, one wonders if a name change isn’t called for.
21st Amendment Brewery was among the first West Coast operations to embrace and promote aluminum packaging. Now their San Leandro brewing facility includes a state-of-the-art canning line that can fill 500 cans a minute in a spectacular display of packaging automation.
It’s not just what’s on the inside of a can, growler or Crowler that’s fresh and delicious. The look and feel of a brewery’s packaging can be as crucial to making a consumer connection as the beer itself. Increasingly, labels are a canvas for the outpouring of gorgeous art.
One look at the artwork for the San Francisco Brewers Guild’s 2017 collaboration beer, New Frontier—designed by Gamut in SF, with cans showing up at retail locations after the beer premiere’s at the SF Beer Week Opening Gala on Feb. 10—and how the artwork reinforces the SF Beer Week theme of innovation as it catapults SF brewing into the future.
Beer graphics express the creativity and joy of Northern California’s brewing and craft beer drinking communities, whether adorning a bottle, a can or a brewery’s fan. To appreciate the graphical expression of SF Bay Area beer culture, look for these eye-popping examples:
- Accomplished graphic artist Damian Fagan, cofounder of Almanac Beer Co., has both created bottle art and worked with outside designers to produce a series of memorable labels over the years. Recently Almanac began canning some of their beers, creating a whole new look in the process.
- Local Brewing Co. doesn’t routinely can or bottle, but the small brewery embraces the Crowler, jumping into the branding fun with bold, simple designs.
- Fort Point Beer Co.’s geometric cityscapes not only brand their canned product effectively at retailers, but adorn the wall at their SF Ferry Building tasting kiosk, providing a stunning beer can backdrop for visitor selfies.
- Nick Fulmer’s hop cartoon artwork and hand-drawn fonts grace hoodies and coasters at both Cellarmaker Brewing Co. and Faction Brewing Co. His slightly twisted hop monster has been hung at places like Social Kitchen & Brewery, and you may see his stickers on local fridges.
- Survey a wide range of can and bottle designs at City Beer Store, California’s first beer bottle shop and tasting room, in San Francisco. While there are no growler or Crowler fills at this retail gem due to state regulatory requirements, the selection of local and select international packaged beers provides visual entertainment—and you can select any of the beers from the shelves to enjoy on the spot if so inclined.
- Across the Bay, The Good Hop in Oakland and Øl Beercafe & Bottle Shop in Walnut Creek have East Bay covered; up north, check out Beercraft in Rohnert Park; and for South Bay, the place to hit is Jane’s Beer Store in Mountain View.