The evolution of packaged beer continues. In recent years, the craft beer industry has seen the previously dominant glass stubby joined by the growler – and its little sibling, the squealer – while the humble aluminium can has been making a comeback too. Now, increasingly, drinkers are able to enjoy beer in a format that effectively combines tinnies and growlers in one as the CANimal makes its mark in Australia.
For the uninitiated, these are 946ml aluminium cans that can be filled directly from the keg via tap, then swiftly sealed by a repurposed tabletop food packaging machine. They first made waves at Modus Operandi, which was the first Australian brewery to install a machine, encouraged by head brewer DJ McCready whose former employer, American brewery Oskar Blues, had pioneered the technology.
Modus Operandi’s co-founder Grant Wearin says the cans caught their attention when they were searching for a suitable alternative to growler machines, which come with the added expense of the growler bottles they require.
“With growlers, there are downsides with not only the shelf life, but also in that wastage can be an issue as well," he says. "CANimal machines are more cost effective, provide a friendlier size for someone just looking to try a beer, and the beer can stay much fresher in a can.
“A growler can be a lot for one person to stomach. With a litre, you can open one and have it to yourself, or share a couple between friends. It’s simply a much more digestible size.”
As the first importers of a CANimal machine to Australia, and one of the first breweries to obtain one worldwide, Modus has become the default point of contact for breweries and stores looking to get such a machine installed.
“We didn’t set out to be the contact point, but because we were the second brewery in the world to get one behind Oskar Blues [of Colorado], people would come to our brewery to get takeaways in this way and decided they wanted to get onto it.”
One of the first to do so was the duo behind Victorian-based online retailer Hops to Home. They saw an opportunity with CANimals to deliver freshly canned beer to people's homes.
Founder Darren Smith says he believes the cans are the perfect delivery mechanism for limited release beers, which sometimes might never otherwise be bottled or canned.
“A lot of the types of beers we sell are one-offs or keg only [releases] that you might never find in a bottleshop," he says. "As well as that, there are a lot of IPAs and double IPAs out there upwards of 7 or 8 percent that you might not feel comfortable drinking much of in a venue if you’re intending to drive home afterwards.
“What we’re seeing is that people are really starting to do their craft beer exploration at home. The question was how do we bring that freshness to that person? CANimals seemed to be the ideal solution.”
As more breweries turn to canning over bottling lines, CANimals seem to be gaining traction for brewery bars as well. Dainton Family Brewery in Carrum Downs and Temple Brewing both have CANimal machines in their sights, while venues bottleshops in Tasmania, New South Wales, Adelaide, and Western Australia have all brought in the machines to allow them to package beers in store.
Leading the way in Western Australia is Cellarbrations Superstore in Hamilton Hill, which received its canning machine from Modus Operandi in August last year. In the 12 months since, staff have filled and sold more than 4,500 cans. With impressive sales figures such as that, it is little wonder that a local “big can” distributor has now set up in the area, specialising in the importation and sale of the aluminium vessels.
At a time when craft cans are all the rage, the ability to pick and choose a beer to package and take away without committing to a two-litre growler has seen the store inundated with customers; while the store fills growlers too, the benefits of a can are proving popular.
Among the benefits espoused by the Cellarbrations staff are that the aluminium cans are recyclable, cool in temperature faster than glass, pack more economically into fridges and eskies and protect the beer from damaging UV light. Further to this, the presence of the CANimal machine allows the store to rotate kegs more often as they are able to fill cans from keg and store them in their fridges, thus increasing the selection of draught beers they can offer from the six draught taps in store.
Clancy’s in Fremantle, no stranger to innovation and pioneering trends within WA, borrowed the Superstore’s machine for its "Cans for Christmas" event, and the team there was quickly sold on the concept. After using the machine for a couple of hours and averaging sales of around 30 cans an hour, the team went to work tracking down a machine to call its own.
The Clancy’s CANimal machine arrived in March and was unveiled in April, with beers available to take home from the 24 taps thereafter and staff confident in its longevity.
“At this stage it’ll be a wait and see approach,” says Freo venue manager Ryan McLeod. “However, the machine may be making a few appearances throughout the rest of our venues once we have it in operation.” In the meantime, the machine is regularly visited by staff of the other stores to package limited release beers for distribution throughout their venues.
For Grant, keeping freshness at the forefront of Modus Operandi’s packaging was a key issue. They only pushed the one litre cans into a few limited bottleshops they knew could move the stock, keeping the remainder for those who made the trip to their Mona Vale brewery.
“It was important that any bottleshops kept with our ethos of 30 days shelf life in cold storage only," he says. "We could have really pushed it, but it was almost by reverse enquiry of people calling us to get their hands on one.
“The benefits of keeping the beer fresh is paramount to us. That’s what these cans deliver on.”
About the author: Dan Brett is a beer enthusiast whose passion fed the inception of The Craft Beer Brief social media pages.
Additional reporting by Kerry McBride.