It seems most craft breweries now are facing a decision between canning or bottling their beer, and how that decision will affect the quality, enjoyability, and bottom line.
Currently breweries are faced with the decision of how to package beer for retail distribution, other than filling kegs. Breweries usually start out filling kegs for their own taproom consumption and continue for distribution to bars an restaurants. Once there is a need or desire to sell retail beer beyond filling growlers, then comes the decision whether to fill bottles or cans.
Cost estimates to start a canning line range from $200,000-$500,000 plus an original starting estimate for 200,000 pre-printed cans at about $30,000. This adds up to about $.15 a can plus the investment of the canning equipment.
Outside of that hefty investment is mobile canning. All the brewery would have to pay for is the printed cans and the service for the mobile canning. A mobile trailer pulls up to the brewery, rolls the machinery into the brewery and cans the beer.
I don't have cost figures for this service as it it so new, but Matt Woempner from Mobile West Canning estimates that mobile canning would run between 35-65 cents a can depending on options of packaging and labeling. Check out episode 48 of MicroBrewr's podcast for more information on mobile canning.
Cans provide better protection from air and light, and less shipping weight, which is an ecological advantage and will save on shipping costs for self-distribution. Ecologically, aluminum cans are more easily and more likely to be recycled. Because they are lighter and more easily compressed, they are easy to collect, accumulate, and take to the recyclers for cash. It is far more difficult to find a recycling company to trade glass bottles for cash these days. Canning also offers a significant speed advantage over bottling. Cans offer a safer container around pools, and sports venues aluminum containers are allowed while glass bottles are prohibited.
Of course, there is a stigma attached to beer in aluminum cans. This is very similar to the stigma of the screw cap for bottling wine, where the perception has been that a screw cap or aluminum can was used for cheap wine or cheap beer. Screw caps for wine and aluminum cans for craft beers are the answer for today and for the future.
Opinions of most brewers whether "mega" all the way down to "micro" say that cans are their choice over bottles. The aluminum can is the packaging choice for today and for the future.