Looking at supermarket shelves in New Zealand, it seems the can
revolution is complete, but there are a surprising number of Kiwi
breweries still committed to glass.
A lot of it has to the do with a boutique nature of New
Zealand’s many small regional breweries. They simply cannot
afford a six-figure canning line, and contract canning cuts into
margins and brings its own logistical challenges.
Matt Smith, owner-brewer at the multi-award winning Brave
Brewing in Hastings, is committed to bottles, and not just that,
his beer is most commonly found in 500ml bottles, which are rarely
seen on supermarket shelves these days.
“I’ve never had a strong opinion either way – I like cans
and agree with the arguments for them: portability, how light they
are, especially for shipping. The jury is probably out on whether
they are more recyclable than glass,” Smith said.
“The reason for bottles for us is pretty simple: we have a
bottingline and we canâ€™t afford the cost or the time involved in
changing it or adding a canning line.â€
When Smith moved from a 100-litre operation to his current 12hL
set up three years ago, he considered a canning line but there were
too many pro-glass factors at play.
One thing that tipped his thinking was his location in the wine
region of Hawkeâ€™s Bay.
â€œWe felt Hawkeâ€™s Bay, which is where we sell 85 per cent of
beer, wasnâ€™t ready for cans,â€ he explained.
Smith felt this was particularly the case with restaurants.
â€œPicturing cans being delivered to tables at winery
restaurants â€“ I donâ€™t think weâ€™re at the point where thatâ€™s
acceptable yet,â€ he said.
Smith has considered a contract canner but felt it would chew
into his margins too much.
His other rationale for glass was a â€œgut instinctâ€ on the
His GAI bottling machine vacuums out oxygen to a negative
pressure and replaces it with CO2 twice over.
â€œYou canâ€™t vacuum a can to that level â€“ the pressure would
crumple the can â€“ so I canâ€™t imagine it being better.â€
The idea that some beer is meant for cans and others for bottles
drives Jason Bathgateâ€™s decision-making at McLeodâ€™s brewery
in Waipu, north of Auckland.
An innovator of hazy IPA in New Zealand through his 802 series,
Bathgate happily puts that beer in cans, along with some other
unfiltered beers and seasonal IPAs. When he recently upgraded
his brewery he invested in a new bottling line.
He sees the virtue of putting hop-dominant beer in cans, when it
comes to classic styles such as lager, porter, and Brett-fermented
beers, heâ€™s a glass fan all the way.
â€œI like putting lager in glass. Germans have been doing it for
decades, itâ€™s just what you do it â€“ pouring the classic German
pilsner from a can doesnâ€™t feel right.â€
He felt the quality argument has â€œtwo sidesâ€.
The simplicity and efficiency of a quality bottling line is
offset by the small possibility of light damage through amber glass
and the fact crown seals are not perfect.
â€œAnd handling bottles is so much easier than cans. On the can
side, thereâ€™s no light getting in, theyâ€™re very lightweight,
environmentally sustainable from energy point of view â€“ to make
them or recycle them
â€œBut from a production point of view, they are a pain in the
â€œAs soon as you take straps off pallets itâ€™s like a stack of
cards â€“ they can fall over. And salvaging a can after pallet
falls is nearly impossible. A can is very delicate and has no
He points out that even minor dents in cans that the eye might
not pick up can cause imperfections in the seal and heâ€™s seen
pictures from customers of some of his hazy beer thatâ€™s turned
brown due to one bad seal in a batch.
At the moment Bathgate uses a contract canner but the difficulty
around logistics means the brewery is going to invest in a canning
machine from Alpha Brewing in the United States.
â€œSince weâ€™ve been doing cans more consistently it has been a
massive revenue generator for us,â€ he said.
â€œWe can charge roughly the same for 440ml can as for a 500ml
bottle and the packaging cost is the same but we save 60ml of
As McLeodâ€™s has grown from a brewpub to a
nationally recognised brand with the beer consistently bringing in
awards, there is now pressure from the supermarkets to put more
beers into cans and specifically six-packs.
â€œWhile weâ€™re naturally gravitating towards more cans â€“ we
are getting pressure from supermarkets whoâ€™d really like us to do
six-packs of cans.â€
Heâ€™s resisting that push for now as his brewery doesnâ€™t make
the volume necessary for the format to pay off.
As for his old bottling line? It was sold to Mikeâ€™s in New
Plymouth, reflecting the nature of the ecosystem in New Zealand
where secondhand bottling lines are the more affordable option for
the many regional breweries.
The small production volumes in many New Zealand breweries go a
long way to determining what they invest in packaging.
Cassels in Christchurch is a relatively large volume producer by
New Zealand standards and has only just made the decision to invest
in a canning line to sit alongside their bottling line.
For executive brewer Simon Bretherton, the decision is a
response to a â€œmarket trendâ€ but he also felt canning lines
have come a long way in recent years in terms of what small scale
New Zealand breweries could afford.
â€œWe talked about cans seven or eight years ago but for small
breweries, even having the right bottling technology available is
something thatâ€™s only been developed in the last couple of
â€œCanning equipmentâ€™s been on a similar path but just a bit
behind bottling technology. Itâ€™s only been in relatively recent
times â€“ compared with bottling â€“ that you can get a canning
plant on a small scale thatâ€™s going to the job 100 per cent
â€œThereâ€™s always been canned beer but for small breweries
like us to do it properly, itâ€™s only relatively recently that
equipment has been available. Seven or eight years ago, what was
available wasnâ€™t to our standards.â€
The predominance of bottled beer in New Zealand is reflected in
the decision by GABS to change the rules around their
inaugural New Zealand can design awards.
After the success of the awards in New Zealand, they decided to
run them in New Zealand â€“ with entries closing tomorrow (Friday
30th October). But soon after announcing the competition, they
expanded it to include bottles.
â€œOf about 160 breweries we looked at, only about 70 were
packaging their beers in cans (a much lower percentage than in
Australia),â€ said Craig Williams of GABS.
â€œHence the change to include all label art in the inaugural
awards and ensure the campaign is as inclusive as possible.â€
Breweries wanting to enter their
packaging designs in the GABS design competition can visit the
Hub with entries closing 30 October.