Bottles versus cans. It’s been a debate in the beer industry since 1935 when the first beer can was sold.
Now the debate has made its way to the Kenai Peninsula where two local breweries have taken their sides on the issue. Kassik’s Brewery has started bottling its beer, while Kenai River Brewing Company has opted for canning.
Each brewery has its reasons for the route it has taken. Frank Kassik, who owns Kassik’s Brewery with his wife, Debbie, said one of the main reasons he went with bottles is because he can bottle different beers at one time. Doug Hogue, co-owner of Kenai River Brewing Co., said he and his business partner, Wendell Dutcher, were focused on the Alaska lifestyle when choosing to go with the packability and sturdiness of cans.
“Looking at the whole state of Alaska, as far as everyone with their outdoor activities, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping. It just made 100 percent sense for that,” Hogue said.
With a 125,000-can minimum order, Hogue said canning has to be an investment in a proven beer, which is why Skilak Scottish Ale has been the only beer to be canned so far. Plans to can Sunken Island IPA are in the works for the first part of July.
“It’s an investment in that single beer and making sure you have a flagship.” Hogue said. “Skilak Scottish has been our flagship since we opened the door.”
Hogue said the canning expenses ran a tab of about $75,000 to $80,000 for everything involved, meaning the equipment and the cans themselves.
Frank Kassik said his bottling operation cost about $80,000 for the equipment and the bottles.
Kassik’s has bottled five beers to date — Beaver Tail Blonde, Caribou Kilt Scottish, Morning Wood IPA, Moose Point Porter and Dolly Varden Nut Brown. The low minimum order for labels — 2,500 versus the 125,000-can minimum — allows Kassik’s to do more than one beer at a time.
“We’re able to present a lot more varieties by going with the bottles,” Kassik said.
Debbie Kassik said since April 26, they have sold about 19 pallets of beer. There are 720 bottles per pallet, which equals out to more than 13,600 bottles.
“That’s a lot of beer,” Debbie said.
With the breweries expanding their reach, both Kassik’s and Kenai River Brewing Co. beers are available throughout the state instead of confined to the Peninsula.
Part of the bottles versus cans debate deals with the taste of the beer when it is canned. Hogue said with new technology, the taste is protected.
“As far as the canister itself, they’re lined now, and the aluminum taste of drinking out of a can is a fallacy,” Hogue said. “It’s a perception people have had, but it doesn’t hold true any longer.”
Frank Kassik said although there is a large craft-brew market, he does not consider other breweries his competition, whether they are local or national.
“It’s not just about the money, you know. It’s about the notoriety of craft beer, we’re just a drop in a bucket compared to the microbrews that are out there,” Kassik said.
Hogue shares the same attitude as Kassik about microbrews, and said the attitude reaches throughout the industry.
“What’s really cool about the whole brewing industry is that everyone works together, we throw things back and forth with each other,” Hogue said. “It’s more of a collaboration.”
According to the Brewers Association, which calls itself “A passionate voice for craft brewers” on its website, as of 2010 there were 1,716 total U.S. craft breweries.