Craft breweries are running out of beer cans

Craft breweries use cans as a cheaper alternative to glass bottles. But now supplies are running low.

Craft breweries use cans as a cheaper alternative to glass bottles. But now supplies are running low.  (AP)

The craft beer boom has brought thousands of new beers to market but as more varieties flood the shelves, breweries are scrambling to get their hands on cans.

Many craft breweries use a 16-ounce can size to “distinguish themselves” from big brands like Budweiser and Coors which use 12-ounce cans, and that size is in exceptionally high demand, reports The New York Times.

“Certainly we’ve seen some of our brewery members struggle in recent months,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the craft beer trade group Brewers Association, told the Times. “This has proven to be a real challenge for members that have built their business model around getting these cans.”

In previous years, many small brewers purchased cans from just one manufacturer, Crown, for orders in the low thousands. But as the company started feeling the squeeze to deliver more types of cans with more microbreweries popping up around the country, the can maker upped its minimum order to a truckload, which can range from about 155,000 to 200,000, depending can size.

“That’s a lot of cans to store, it’s a lot of cash to lay out, and the little guys just don’t have that,” Tim Dorward, a mobile canner, told the Times. “Crown was working with people, and they’re very interested in the craft industry, but it just caught them by surprise.”

Brewers told the newspaper that they started noticing a shortage this summer, as orders that used to take just a few weeks to fill took three months or more to complete. And not only are there few can manufacturers willing to fill smaller orders, it can be very expensive for a brewer to quickly switch makers because new printing plates need to be ordered and changes require federal as well as local approval.

A spokesman for Crown told the Times that the company has recommended alternatives to former clients.

But in an industry experiencing double-digit growth over the better part of the past decade, beer makers will have to explore more options for getting their product to market in suitable containers.

The owners of Rockaway Brewing Company based in Queens, New York raised $30,000 to buy their own canning machine for transporting smaller servings of their popular brews. The brewery estimates it ships about 6,000 cans monthly. For comparison, Anheuser-Busch InBev says it goes through about 1.5 billion cans a month. New York locals are encouraged to take beer home in glass growlers.

Other companies have taken a scrappier approach, buying blank cans where they can and applying the labels themselves.