Posted on | December 22, 2015
Written by | Jeffery Lindenmuth
Lifting a page from Craft Beer’s Marketing Manual.
It’s back to the future for the aluminum can. First used to package frozen juice concentrate in 1960, aluminum cans were quickly embraced by soft drink and beer producers following the addition of the convenient pull-tab, patented in 1963. Despite the timeless luster of traditional glass bottles and the lightness of modern PET plastics, more beverage producers are realizing that even today few packages can rival aluminum for its combination of recyclability, portability, durability, lightness, and protective qualities.
Craft beer producers are returning to the format in droves, a movement instigated by Peter Love of Cask Brewing Systems, who revived the prestige of the package at Colorado’s Oskar Blues starting in 2002. “Cans are now seen by craft beer consumers and brewers as a premium and preferred package for beer, and we have a long list of brewers who have quickly grown their business by using cans. That will someday be the case with wine, cider and cocktails,” predicts Love.
Indeed, more spirits and wine producers are asking, “why should beer have all the fun?” By putting their products into aluminum formats, wine and spirits are entering traditional beer occasions and catering to active lifestyles. Launched in 2013, Winestar is moving more aggressively in the U.S., distributing their line of French AOC wines in a 187ml “canette” in Florida, California, New York and New Jersey. “It is the best of any packaging on the market,” says Bryan Schell, VP Sales and Marketing, Winestar. “It is already made from mostly recycled material, and is again 100% recyclable.” Priced at $3.99 per unit retail, Winestar takes advantage of the great quality to price ratio of southern French wines, with flagship red and white blends from AOC Corbières, joined by a Languedoc rosé.
The popularity of wine in cans comes as little surprise to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, which first put its Sofia sparkling wine in single-serve 187ml cans, dubbed the Mini, in 2004. “The concept of canned wine was received with mixed fanfare at first, but the Sofia Minis have seen steady growth and they’re now one of our most popular selections,” says Tondi Bolkan, winemaker. Sparkling wine and other styles of fresh, ready-to-drink wines are great candidates for cans, explains Bolkan. “Think of the can as a small wine tank— the vessel is sealed with no air venting in or out. Some wines need aging and/or micro-oxidation, be it through the staves of a barrel or the pores of a cork.”
Other notable can-do wines include two 500ml “tall boys” from Field Recordings in Paso Robles, CA: the “Fiction” red blend and Alloy Wine Works Grenache Rosé. And from France, two “slim” (237ml, 8oz) cans of Pampelonne, spritzers in Rosé Lime and Red Sangria (SRP $3.99, 6% ABV). And Infinite Monkey Theorem sells their canned wines by the liter (as a four-pack of 250mls), only in Denver and Austin.
While beer producers continue to offer new cocktail-inspired malt beverages in a can, like Bud Lite with their Mixxtails in flavors of Hurricane, Long Island and Firewalker, spirits-based beverages are aiming for the high ground, betting that consumers will differentiate among their cocktails with a distilled spirits base.
Gosling’s Rum is enjoying immense success with their own ginger beer cocktail, the Dark ’n Stormy Ready-To-Drink in an 8.4oz can, made with Black Seal Rum and ginger beer. Coupled with its diet counterpart, the Dark ’n Skinny, these canned cocktails are on target to top 1 million case sales annually in 2016. “It has taken on a life of its own and is being enjoyed all over. The convenience makes it wonderful for golf courses, beaches and boating. But even above convenience we find people appreciate the consistency,” says Malcolm Gosling, President & CEO of Gosling-Castle Partners Inc.
Other entries suggest that cocktails in aluminum are just getting started. Frustrated that she was unable to find a good portable substitute for beer during a backpacking trip in central America, Sarah Pierce partnered with a college friend to create Tiqo, a custom cocktail of blanco tequila, coconut water, ginger, turmeric and lime in a black matte aluminum bottle (SRP $4.99, ABV 6%). “Spirits are doing well for a number of reasons. And one of the things Bud Lite does not understand is it’s not just the flavor, but that people are trying to avoid the the carbs and the calories and the sugariness of malt beverages,” says Pierce. With distribution in New York and Connecticut, Tiqo has gained a following among young consumers in beach towns like Montauk; Miami is their next market.
Wyn Ferrell, a partner at Mile High Spirits in Denver, chose to target the classic Moscow Mule, with the introduction of Punching Mule, a combination of real vodka and ginger beer, in a 12oz can. “Not everybody wants to drink beer, and this is a cocktail that can live in a beer world,” says Ferrell, noting that Punching Mule is comfortable being tossed among the crowd by hawkers at Denver Nuggets games. The brand also is actively pursuing those who choose to avoid gluten; “It was a bland world for them. Unless you wanted to haul around 2-liter ginger ale, you had few choices,” says Ferrell.
For San Diego’s craft beer producer Ballast Point (recently snapped up by Constellation), putting their distilled spirits into canned cocktails, like a Bloody Mary made with Fugu Vodka (10% ABV) and a gin and tonic using their Old Grove gin (6.2% ABV), seems a natural fit. Debuted in August 2015, the canned cocktails are available in four-packs, priced around $14.99 at retail. Just another sign that aluminum, this wonder material of the 1960s—stigmatized by industrial beer but recently reclaimed by craft brewers—is helping to carve out future markets for beverage alcohol today.