Canned revolution: Why UK breweries are choosing cans

Homer Simpson and Peter griffin are classic cartoon characters that have dominated TV screens for the past 20 years.

But unlike the improving animation of the characters, one thing that is consistant is the brown bottle of Duff or Quahog beer that they drink. But now the ever reliable bottle is under threat from the 330ml can, so is Homer and the rest of Springfield failing to keep up with the canned beer revolution?

In 2015 more than 220 million pints of beer were shipped to the US worth a record £164m. That’s a 35% increase on the previous year and all of this coincides with the rise of UK craft breweries such as Scottish brand BrewDog, which was recently valued at £1bn

Since the recent emergence of the ‘craft beer movement’ in the UK, the 330ml can has begun taking over the role of bottles. This may seem like old news in the US, but the UK and other parts of Europe have only recently begun the transfer from glass to aluminium.

Between January and September 2016, 53% of the 4.5m hl of beer that was exported from the UK was canned. This makes cans Britain’s most used vessel for exporting its local beers to Europe and further abroad.

But, why have breweries suddenly begun scrapping the old and ever reliable bottles for aluminium cans? Practicality? Fashion? Economic benefit?


Meantime brewery in London began canning its three most popular beers in April while Black Sheep, Singha Beer, Hop Stuff brewery and many others were simultaneously following suit.

Ciaran Giblin, brewmaster at Meantime sat down with Drinks International to discuss the emergence of caned beers in the UK.

Ciaran says, “I like to think that in US states where craft beers really took off, there’s a lot of outdoor activity so bottles just weren’t very practical to carry. And there’s no need for a bottle opener, providing you value your teeth.

“I also think that small cans are more sessionable and user friendly than bottles.”

Of course, beers have been canned in various forms for nearly a century and big breweries like Carlseberg, Stella Artois and Fosters are most recognised for their 500ml cans, often marked as a value six-pack in supermarkets. However, the new craze for the 330ml ‘Coke-size’ cans have been adopted by seemingly every microbrewery in the UK.

Bottles however, have reigned over the beer industry since mass production and exports kicked-off in the early 20th Century. So generally speaking it’s very easy to get hold of a second hand bottling system and maintain a cheaper line of production, compared to the more modern, often expensive canning lines.

Ciaran says, “We now have access to a rotary system which is far superior to what we call a linear canning system. If you imagine having a line of cans moving in a straight line and getting filled and sealed, compared to a curved line of cans there a lot of differences.”

“The process of canning beers compared to bottling is fairly similar in concept. Both techniques use blasts of CO2 to extract oxygen from the beer, but bottles have a far smaller openning which puts it at an advantage over cans.

“Oxygen is the worst possible additive for beer, therefore the less exposure the beer has to the open air the better. With the rotary systems the cans are sealed much faster so we can be more confident in the quality and taste of our beer."

Ciaran also says that the US has had access to the specialised machinery needed for canning much longer than in the UK. Meantime doesn’t can its beer onsite, mainly due to a lack of space in its warehouse in east London, but also the same old issue of cost.


Have you ever noticed that Homer and Peter drink from brown bottles that mimic a bottle of Budweisser? As well as a clever piece of marketing by ‘The King of Beers’, there is some science behind the brown bottle.

Ciaran ads, “UV light effects bottles because it penetrates the glass, so if you taste a bottle of beer that’s been left in the sun for an hour compared to one that hasn’t, they would be completely different. Brown bottles are the best for preventing exposure to UV light, but ultimately aluminium cans don’t have this problem.”

Martin Constable, chairman of UK trade body Can Makers, spoke to Drinks International about why he thinks cans are taking over the craft beer industry in the UK.

“The trend for canning craft beer started in the US and the industry is already well-established thanks to small-scale canning machines being available for over a decade. The UK also came from a more traditional cask approach but is catching up fast with the US now - and well ahead of the rest of Europe. 

“From no low volume lines four years ago there are now over 35 craft beer can filling lines in the UK, and off-trade retail sales of 330ml craft beer cans grew by 468% last year.

“Cans have an unparalleled safety record. Sturdy and unlikely to suffer breakages, their tamper-resistant and tamper-evident packaging provides consumers with peace of mind that their products have been safely prepared and delivered.”


Another London-based brewery called Beavertown has pioneered the artistic possibilities of canning beer with intricate graphics that almost hypnotise consumers into purchasing its beers. Beavertown founder Logan Plant, joined Drinks International to share his views on the brand’s marketing.

“The can for us is a completely blank canvas and 360 degrees of awesomeness that we can go mad with. There are lots of microbreweries doing it now and it’s wicked for us because we’re really stimulated by our design and our artwork.

“When we started canning three years ago in London there didn’t seem to be many people doing it.

“The size of the 330ml can is hospitable to bars and shelving and fits in bags to take wherever you want.  Ecologically for the amount of cans we can fit on a pallet it’s the perfect size as well – plus the recycling of aluminium is far more cost effective than glass.

“When we’re talking about a fresh IPA there’s no better vessel than a can. It’s a mini keg.”

If you were to watch season eight, episode 21 of The Simpsons, there’s a scene where Lisa asks Homer to recycle his 330ml sized beer cans by drinking the entire crate. This episode was first broadcast in 1997, highlighting the 20-year gap between the US and UK, but it looks as though that gap has finally started to close.