Thursday, 16 May 2013

Can drinkers be profiled?

On my most recent visit to Tesco, I was interested to see 4x500ml cans of Old Golden Hen on sale at £5 (normal price £5.99). Canned versions of beers better known as premium bottled ales have been around for some time, although I’ve rarely bought them as I tend to prefer to choose a range of different beers and, in any case, they seldom show a worthwhile price advantage over bottles. Indeed, they can even be more expensive – when Morrisons were selling premium bottles at four for £5.50, they had several four-packs of the same beers in cans at a higher price.

Another factor, although it seems less common now, is that some canned ales claimed to have a non-widget “in can system” that was supposed to make them more like draught beer, but in practice just ended up making them a bit flat. Having said that, a while back I did try canned Directors and found it hard to distinguish from the bottled version.

I’d always perceived the buyers of cans of premium ale as, in general, older and more conservative than buyers of bottles, people who had grown up with cans of Stones and Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter and now moved on to something a bit more upmarket. This was reflected in the canned beers tending to be the more established and staid brands such as Pedigree, Abbot Ale and London Pride.

However, we are now seeing recently-introduced beers put into cans such as Old Golden Hen, Adnams’ Ghost Ship and Thwaites’ Wainwright, which don’t tap into the same heritage and reflect the modern trend towards lighter-coloured, hoppier ales. Does this indicate that canned ales are now reaching out to a younger demographic? I have certainly seen references on social media to younger drinkers taking premium cans on train journeys, and to events like barbeques, where bottles would prove heavy and impractical.

Many US craft brewers put their beer into cans, and indeed from an environmental point of view there is much to be said for cans over bottles as they are lighter, and thus cheaper to transport, and also more easily recycled. It’s likely that over time we will see an ever-growing number of British ales available in cans, but a leap of imagination is required before they start to encroach into the single bottle market. And, as I said in my earlier post, there remains a widespread view that anyone buying a single can is a problem drinker, which would have to be overcome.


  1. As I was saying earlier, you see cans associated with old codgers who will spend all day in the pub nursing 2 pints of best bitter then go home for a can of John Smiths.

    That said, you mention Ghost Ship which I think works better in the can than the bottle. Oddly, it's a lot closer to cask with getting the hop character out there.

    Didn't know that Wainwright is available in cans though!

  2. It will be interesting to see if canned ale goes through a boom. It's likely the brewers who would want most to take advantage of it, and would be better received (ie smaller craft breweries appealing to younger beer drinkers) simply can't afford to invest in the production processes.

    So, by and large, canned ale will always be the preserve of larger, more mainstream breweries which have been around for awhile and have a more established demographic (ie an older beer drinking crowd).

    In my travels around Yorkshire, I have recently taken to enjoying an odd can of Flying Dog. There are a few entrepreneurial bars (Friends of Ham, the platform pub at Dewsbury) which have tapped in to this. I mean, I enjoy a drink when I'm travelling, but I don't want to get battered. Somehow, a single can of funky labelled Flying Dog doesn't look as bad a single can of Stella...

  3. At the shop where I work, I have noticed more 4-pack cans of allegedly "Premium Ales". Black Sheep is one that's arrived, and a few more will be coming in the next few weeks.

    We sold our last 4-pack of Stones today. It's been discontinued. How much longer left for cooking bitters?

  4. Martin, Cambridge16 May 2013 at 23:33

    I was unfortunate enough to be on several trains around Twickenham last Saturday and confirm that only Fosters and fizzy "cider" are drunk by Londoners, despite a lot of canned choice in the excellent offie.

    Brew Dog did Punk IPA in cans last year but it wasn't great.

  5. Actually, recent developments in canning technology have seriously brought down the cost of canning lines, to the point smaller brewers can increasingly afford them. And there now exists the potential for "can-conditioning" rather than filling with bright, carbonated beer.

    Furthermore, cans are better than bottles in terms of oxygen and light exposure (especially with the apparent British preference for clear bottles)plus offer an advantage in weight. And they're easier to chill (although this unfortunately makes them more vulnerable to high heat during transport.)

    Good beer in cans has potential. It's really just down to consumer bias at this stage.

  6. Count me as biased. Cans just don't look classy enough.

  7. For street drinking & festivals grog that doesn't need a bottle opener is welcome.

    I'm surprised more bottles have not adopted tuborgs bottle pull or 33 Exports twist cap.

    The mid range wine market appears to have lost the cork in favour of
    the screw cap, something many thought was down market.

    There is potential to convince people that canned product does not equate to poor quality in areas far wider than beer.

  8. I wouldn't want anything can-conditioned as I wouldn't be able to see if it had cleared.

    Another offputting feature of cans is why so many British brewers bizarrely continue to use 440ml cans as opposed to 500ml - where did that come from?

  9. I think 440ml is quite a good size for a beer can, it doesn't quite give the beer time to go warm.

    I hate pint cans especially, the last 100ml is always a struggle.

    I always think bottles are better for pouring but cans are better if you're just going to drink it straight from the container in the park or at a bbq etc.

  10. I've stopped buying bottle beer and switched to cans because:
    a) bottled beer is way too fizzy - reminds of the best days of keg and
    b) they charge you a premium for putting your beverage in a glass container.
    Canned draft Bass - if you can find it - is hard to beat.....

  11. it was rugby 7s last weekend round Twickers & there were notably alot of non-representative drinkers of alcohol around London as a result I thought :)

    and Im not sure clear bottles are a particularly british preference, they are a preference of particular british brewers no doubt (who swear blind the effects of it are designed - and Im not to doubt them even I occasionaly dislike it) but the average supermarket shelf is still probably 80/20 in favour of brown bottles.

    cans I think brewers are heading that way because its cheaper for them to do than bottling, less chance of the top seal being broken, & not an attempt necessarily to reach out to younger drinkers. I mean mini casks (or gigantic cans ?) are more that sort of thing pushed as the choice for bbqs and increasingly seem to be available in supermarkets and not just the local brands either.

  12. I spend too long looking at beer shelves, and as far as I can remember only Shepherd Neame and Marstons seem to be big on clear glass bottles. Around here, Lancaster Brewery do them as well, but as they name their beers by colour, I suppose they would.

  13. Professor Pie-Tin18 May 2013 at 11:01

    Even in the deepest,darkest days of few craft beers nationally available here in Ireland canned Bass always seemed to be available.
    There was nowt wrong with it then and there's nowt wrong with it now.

  14. "a widespread view that anyone buying a single can is a problem drinker"

    Really? First I've heard of it. Are you sure that's not just your own perception, CM? Not unlike your odd assertion that buying a half in a pub is a "distress purchase"?

  15. There was a report recently that off-licences in Spalding in Lincolnshire (can't find the reference) had been banned from selling single cans as they supposedly encouraged street drinkers. A similar logic to banning packs of 10 to discourage smoking.

  16. One town in Lincolnshire - that's not exactly "widespread", is it? Still, I tend to agree with your general points in the post.

  17. It's true that all the people I've been asked by for single cans certainly look less than sober or salubrious. We always refuse such requests.

    Though, on occasion, 4-packs with one missing have been found on the shelf. Sadly, as all the cans have barcodes, anyone who got single by this method has paid for 4.

  18. Morrisons are now stocking Black Sheep Ale in cans.


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