Contract brewing: good for the brewer, good for the brewery

Go to any liquor store with a decent beer selection and you’ll find enough “bombers” (22-ounce bottles) to start a war. This proliferation of beers is due, at least in part, to the rise of contract brewing, or brewing your beer at someone else’s brewery.

This relationship is mutually beneficial — it helps the physical brewery’s bottom line while allowing a new brewer to get a foot in the door for a much lower initial cost. By contracting, startups can avoid the often multi-million dollar investment that comes with building a brewery. Lower entry costs means more breweries, which means more selection, which means more hoppy goodness for all. Continue reading

The benefits, and hazard, of canned beer

I write this column while enjoying the complex, yet easy-drinking Barstool American Golden Ale by the extremely promising Foolproof Brewing from Pawtucket. The beer is unusual not because they manage to squeeze so much flavor into a 4.5% sipper, but because the beer is poured from a can.

That’s right, the can is making a comeback. Long-vilified in craft brewing as the realm of 30-packs of light, flavorless brews, canned craft beers have become as popular as the guy that brought a keg to the party.

Suddenly, craft breweries across the country are selling their beers in cans, and some sell ONLY cans and kegs. Foolproof distributes their top-notch offerings in cans and kegs only, as does Maine’s Baxter Brewing, Vermont’s amazing Alchemist Cannery, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint and dozens of other breweries across the country.

Heck, Sam Adams now sells its flagship Boston Lager and its Summer Ale in cans. Fellow local brewers Harpoon, Cisco, Berkshire, Newport Storm, Narragansett, Gray Sail, and Wachusett all began offering some of their brews in cans in the last several years.

The advantages of cans are numerous: they’re cheaper, can be stacked and stored easily, block skunky-beer-inducing UV rays, are lighter, are easily recycled, and are simply more convenient for the user. And these aren’t your dad’s cans – the beer contained within don’t taste metallic thanks to advances in can technology, so they usually taste just as good as their bottled counterparts

Unfortunately, that same technology has a dark side: the cans contain BPA (bisphenol-A), an amazing bottle protector that also an endocrine disruptor (Google it). BPA keeps the beer from leeching metallic flavors into the beer. That’s good. It’s also a health risk. That’s not so good.

BPA has been loosely linked to a host of medical issues, including obesity, diabetes, neurological issues, and cancer (among other things). It’s been banned in baby bottles and sippy cups in the US, and studies have shown that it does leach into beer in very small amounts.

It’s obvious that BPA has come to the attention of the nation because most reusable water bottles now read “BPA-Free.”

Most brewers completely ignore the issue, and those that address it do so in a very general way. New Belgium, the country’s 4th biggest brewery and a leader in green brewing, basically says that it’s up to the consumer to decide their own risk. Most of the others completely ignore the issue.

In the end, the majority of BPA leeching risk comes from exposure to heat and long-term exposure to the BPA. Therefore, I definitely drink fresh local canned beer, but am slightly wary of canned brews that have been sitting on the shelves for months and shipped across the country.

Originally published on August 15, 2013