Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Great Can Debate

In a month, Lila and I will travel to Bergamo, Italy, to inspect our new COMAC bottling line before it ships here. The new line will help us double our current capacity for bottling, and will give us a much better bottled beer, with a longer shelf life.

I guess that kind of gives away our decision between switching to cans, or staying in bottles!

It was a very hard decision. Canned craft beer is one of the hottest trends right now, and we know our customers would love to have the option of getting their Yazoo in cans. However, we chose to upgrade to better, faster bottling line, rather than a new canning line, for the following reasons:

1. First, you guys spoke! Only 32% of the people who voted in our poll were in favor of us switching to cans completely. At our current level, we can't afford to invest in both a new canning line and a new bottling line - it had to be one or the other. But there seemed to be a lot of interest in having some of our beers available in cans, as long as they were always available in bottles as well. So, perhaps after we get our new bottling line up and running, we'll start looking at canning some of our beers as well.

2. BPA. I didn't even know what this was until I started doing more research, and while I am not one to pay attention to every health scare issue, this is one I began to think about. Apparently BPA, which is a chemical in the lining that is sprayed into each can to line the can, can act like a synthetic hormone in humans. Some doctors and scientists believe BPA can leach from the linings of cans, and build up in the bloodstream of young children. There it might act like a synthetic form of estrogen, causing young girls to hit puberty much earlier than normal. I don't know - the evidence is inconclusive. But I do know that there is building political pressure to find an alternative to BPA in can linings - in fact, just this week, Canada declared BPA to be a toxic substance to humans, which will lead to bans in soda and beer cans. I'd rather wait and see how it all shakes out before investing in a new canning line. Here is a link to the story:

3. Canning technology for microbrewers - There are really only one or two companies that make canning lines suited for small breweries. While the filling head designs of the leading company seem to be very good, the seaming technology seems to be problematic. In talks with other brewers and in research online, I have heard many stories of problems with the can seamers on small canning lines, with pinhole leaks developing, sometimes weeks after canning (especially if pallets of cans are stacked on top of each other, like at many distributors). After years of finicky issues with our current bottler and labeller, the last thing I want to do is introduce a new headache.

4. Economics - we have great relationships with our bottle suppliers, and over the past few years have gotten great payment terms. Switching to cans would mean paying, upfront before we even get the first beer into a can, about $45,000 total for the first truckload of cans plus all the deposit fees for pallets, liners, etc. That's a huge hit in cash flow for any business, but especially small breweries like us.

We know bottles. We like bottles. I'd love to get some of our beer into cans at some point (hopefully sooner than later). But for right now we are staying with the good old Heritage bottle for our new line.




ticklefamilysecrets said...


Wingnutz1 said...

Whatever is best for the brewery is good with me. I'd drink Yazoo out of a paper carton if that was how you sold it. I will say I would love to see some cans of Yazoo one of these days. I can't seem to get the image of a tall boy of Dos Perros on the river out of my head.

Doug B. said...

Thanks for the insight into your decision. With a 3-year-old son, my wife and I went through the Bisphenol-A (BPA) scare a few years back, tossing all his plastic bottles and replacing them with glass.

While most things I have read to this point about beer cans indicate that the BPA levels in can liners are of little harm to humans, I applaud you for including this in your consideration. Given the option, I'd much rather drink beer stored in a glass bottle than in a can that is known to include a BPA liner. Does that mean I don't drink canned beers? No. But it's something to be mindful of.

Thanks for the open communication with your customers.

p.s. Almost buried in your insightful post: a trip to Italy! I'm jealous.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like reason #4 should have been higher...

it's too bad, the first small brewery to can in Tennessee will reap the rewards...i still hold out hope.

Linus said...

Doug B:

Thanks for the comments. I want to say that I did not intend to imply that there is any danger to children from craft beer in cans - that would be pretty silly, three-year-olds aren't drinking beer. My main worry about the controversy around BPA is that the FDA or some other government agency might ban it from cans, and we'd be caught in an industry-wide scramble to find an alternative, with all of our eggs in one basket, as it were.

And Anonymous, the points aren't in any order of importance. Taken together, we decided to stick with bottles.

Swenocha said...

Bottles... cans... doesn't matter to me. It's what's inside that counts.

(that being said... please tell me you're switching to pop-tops instead of twist-offs... I'd buy a lot more Yazoo if I could reuse the bottles for homebrew... ;))

Swenocha said...

Ohh... and one more thing...

What was in the carboys?!?!? I needs to know... ;)

Doug B. said...


Sorry, I didn't mean to suggest you were discussing BPA in beer cans as being harmful to 3 year olds; I was just pointing out that I became aware of BPA as a result of my child and the accompanying protective research you do as a parent. In his case it was plastic feeding bottles, etc. Shortly afterward I learned BPA was also present in the liners of all available beer cans. Not wanting to unnecessarily ingest a questionable chemical, I'm glad you took the consequences of BPA (whether chemical and/or political) into consideration when making your decision. I think we all look forward to the day that a BPA-free liner gains approval. Thanks & cheers!

Ken said...

BPA should have been the LEAST of your concerns for a brewery that gets it's water out of the Cumberland River!

BPA is a non-issue, especially if positing the straw man argument re: BPA MAYBE acting like a synthetic estrogen on pre-pubescent girls!

Come on man, just how many pre-pubescent (eg less than 12-13y old girls are drinking Yazoo Brews?!

But, WATER, nasty ass 'gray' water outta the Cumberland asource fro brewing craft beer? Well that's a different story.

"In March of 2009, Metro Water Services entered into an agreement brought by federal courts to clean up Nashville’s waterways by limiting or eliminating the flow of sewage into the Cumberland River and the tributaries that feed it and to ensure compliance with the federal Clean Water Act of 1972."

With all the crap that can't be filtered/supressed/eliminated by even muni systems, BPA should be WAY down the list of concerns re: a decision to go can v bottle.

This straw dog argument has (gray water) wet feet.

btw, I'm not a 'can' industry guy! I AM a promoter for bring craft beer (back) to NY's Adirondack Mtns.

Home to NY's/US's cleanest softest purest water here in the Adirondacks (constitutionally protected and forever wild) WE don't have those concerns and, if/when you wanna expand/2nd site the door is open and a USCIS EB5 program is being implemented to bring MILLIONS Of offshore dollars in SPECIFICALLY to grow craft beer here:

Linus said...


Thanks. Your well-reasoned arguments and insightful writing style add a lot to the discussion.