Breaking the glass bottle: Berkshire Brewing Co. in Deerfield hops on the micro-brew trend, sells beer in a can

Last modified: Sunday, September 01, 2013

DEERFIELD — Beer drinkers can now enjoy a cold one out of can from Berkshire Brewing Co.

For the first time, the South Deerfield-based brewery is releasing its signature brand, Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale, in 12-ounce cans. The Steel Rail cans will be released in Massachusetts first, with release to other New England markets to follow.

It is the first time in the company’s 19-year history it has packaged its beer in cans. Berkshire Brewing beer has historically been packaged in 22-ounce bombers, 64-ounce growler bottles and kegs. Most craft brewers have traditionally used bottles to package their product, which most beer aficionados say is best consumed in a glass and not directly from a bottle or can. In fact, the maker of the popular regional Sam Adams brew in February announced it had spent two years to develop a special can that would preserve the glass-drinking experience as it, too, shifted from bottles to cans, a form of packaging used by the nation’s mega breweries.

The local beermaker chose to use a standard beer can.

“As we debated what type of packing made sense for portable and environmental concerns, cans were the right decision,” said Jason Hunter, director of sales for the company.

From the business’ perspective, Hunter said the lighter weight cans would take up less space and decrease transportation and associated costs.

When the company started in 1994, transforming an old cigar factory into a micro brewery, founders Christopher T. Lalli and Gary A. Bogoff worked with a group of volunteers to hand-package their product into the 22-ounce bottles.

“At the time, it was economics,” Hunter said. “We couldn’t afford the expensive equipment. We were bottling by hand.” Later, they installed automated bottling equipment. With the more convenient cans, Berkshire Brewing hopes to appeal to more casual drinkers of Steel Rail and turn them into regular customers. Hunter said the can won’t affect the taste of the ale’s hoppy citrus flavor and aroma.

Berkshire Brewing is starting off with its light-colored, medium-bodied Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale because of its popularity among customers. Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale is Berkshire Brewing’s flagship brand.

“Steel Rail is 50 percent of the beer we sell currently,” Hunter said. “It was logical to start off with it.” The brewery, however, doesn’t intend for Steel Rail to be the only canned beer.

Hunter said at some point the brewery will roll out cans for other popular brands depending on how Steel Rail cans impact production.

While the beer will continue to be brewed and bottled in Deerfield, it will be transported on refrigerator tractor-trailers to Westminster for canning.

Berkshire Brewing is teaming with another local brewery, Wachusett Brewing Co. to package the beer. The collaboration came just as Berkshire Brewing was looking to increase its sales through canned beer.

While Berkshire Brewing doesn’t have the equipment for canning, it plans to in the future. Hunter did not have a specific date when the company would get the canning equipment. “It is ultimately our goal to can in Deerfield,” said Hunter.

In 19 years, Berkshire Brewing has gone from brewing about 1,200 barrels a year to 22,000 barrels of beer last year — half of which is Steel Rail.

Hunter said the brewery projects the canned beer will increase its volume. “There’s no way we will know what it will be until it’s on the market for a while,” Hunter said.

The price of the canned Steel Rail is up to retailers, Hunter said. But he expects the price to be between $7.99 and $8.99 for a six-pack.


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