Original Lite Beer Can Coming Back

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These always give me a chuckle. Whenever sales are flagging, one of the strategies employed by the bigger beer companies to reverse their fortunes is to change the packaging. Earlier this month, Miller sent out a press release, “Celebrate Miller Time with the Light Beer that Started It All.” They’re bringing back the original can design for Miller Lite, their unnatural abomination of a diet beer. My thoughts on low-calorie light beer are very opinionated, and none too positive, for example read Disrespecting Low-Calorie Light Beer and No Defense For Light Beer.

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Here’s the press release:

The Original Lite Can features the familiar images of hops, barley and the words “a fine pilsner beer,” which reinforce the high quality ingredients and the unique brewing process that consumers have enjoyed for generations.

“There was a time when all that existed was heavy beer that weighed you down,” said Elina Vives, marketing director for Miller Lite. “The launch of Miller Lite broke this category convention and offered beer drinkers the best of both worlds, great taste at only 96 calories and 3.2 carbs. Miller Lite is the original light beer and this limited-edition can celebrates that innovation and helps inform consumers of the rich history behind our beer.”

In addition to becoming available to consumers in January, the Original Lite Can will appear in the upcoming Paramount Pictures’ release, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The news team can be seen enjoying the Original Lite in the film, which will be released nationwide December 18.

The limited-edition Original Lite Can will be available nationwide January through March in 12-, 16- and 24-ounce sizes.

All well and good, but sheesh, why not just make a beer that people would want to drink, not one you have to market and advertise to death to create demand? Can people really be nostalgic for that can design? But that seems to be used a marketing tactic every few years, to change the package, the label or something along those lines. It’s indicative of a culture that’s long ago abandoned the importance of what’s inside the package and instead has been concentrating on the external. Sure, how the packaging looks is important, but it’s not more important than the beer, and for big beer companies it surely seems like marketing has trumped any other concerns for many, many years.

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Calling it a “Pilsner beer,” of course, strains the notion of what a pilsner is.

Never Say Never: Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cans

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Lots of big announcements in the beer world this week, as the Boson Beer Co. made public today their plan to release Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans this summer. I can’t seem to find the original source this morning, but I clearly recall several years ago that Boston Beer founder Jim Koch was quoted at one time that Samuel Adams beer would never be in cans, but over time his stance began to soften, and by 2010 he was warming to the idea. At that time, he told Beer Business Daily that he did believe that someday Samuel Adams would be in cans, and was still looking at the BPA in liners as a not-quite-resolved-yet issue. Once upon a time, their 2005 “Beer Bill of Rights” included as Article VI: “Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.”

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That issue has largely been solved with the use of an organic polymer, but Boston Beer has apparently taken it one step farther, designing their own type of can for the project, “the Sam Can.”

From the press release:

Samuel Adams announced today that for the first time it plans to offer Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a can – but not just any can. The new can design — the result of two years of ergonomic and sensory research and testing — aims to provide a drinking experience that is closer to the taste and comfort of drinking beer from a glass. The “Sam Can,” as the brewers call it, will hit shelves in early summer 2013, just in time for drinking occasions that call for the convenience of a can such as sporting events, boating or the beach.

“The debate over bottles vs. cans has been a sticking point for brewers in the craft beer community for years,” says Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “In the past, I had my doubts about putting Sam Adams in a can because I wasn’t convinced that Boston Lager would taste as good as it does from a bottle. But cans have changed. And I believe we’ve designed a can that provides a slight but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beer can.”

Koch and the other brewers at Samuel Adams first worked with can manufacturer Ball Corporation to understand can design, technology, and how to package premium beer in cans. The brewers then worked with a design team at IDEO, a recognized global design firm, and finally enlisted the help of sensory expert, Roy Desrochers of GEI Consultants. Desrochers, a recognized beer flavor expert for the Master Brewer’s Association of the Americas (MBAA), has provided counsel to the brewing industry for almost three decades. With Desrochers’ help, Koch studied every aspect of the new can, from how it could potentially impact the flavor of Samuel Adam’s flagship Boston Lager to the ergonomics of how the beer flows from the can and hits the taste receptors on a drinker’s tongue.

“I worked with Jim and the other brewers at Sam Adams on an ergonomic and flavor study to understand the benefits of the new can,” says Desrochers. “The flared lip and wider top of the new Sam Can work in concert to deliver the beer in a way that makes the flavor closer to drinking out of a glass. Although subtle, this can delivers a more pronounced, more balanced flavor experience – something that was very important to the brewers. The extended lip of the can also creates a smoother, more comfortable overall drinking experience.”

The difference in drinking out of the new can as compared to a standard can will be modest, but drinkers should notice enhanced flavors and a more comfortable experience. The position of the can opening and wider lid, naturally opens up the mouth allowing for more air flow and positions the drinker’s nose closer to the hop aromas of the beer. A little known fact is that most of what we think we taste is actually what we smell – that’s why it’s hard to taste food with a stuffed up nose. Drinkers also noticed that the extended, curved lip of the can delivered the beer to the front of the palate to maximize the early enjoyment of the malt sweetness.

Koch’s end goal in developing a new can is to provide drinkers with the best possible Boston Lager drinking experience when they prefer the convenience of a can, like on the golf course or at the beach, without compromising the taste of his first and favorite beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Celebrating the flavors and ingredients in Boston Lager is what also led to the development of the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass in 2007, also the result of a lengthy research project to enhance the beer drinking experience.

“The new Sam Can required a million dollar investment in special equipment tooling along with time, research and testing. This new can will also cost more than the standard can to produce. It may seem a little crazy to make that kind of investment, but we felt the slight improvement in the drinking experience was worth the expense. We made decisions based on the beer, not on the bottom line,” Koch explains. “We’ve done tastings here at the brewery, with Sam Adams drinkers and our experts, “and now, we’re proud to launch Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans. We have a vessel that gives our drinkers the best tasting Samuel Adams in a can.”

Among the many advantages of cans is that drinkers prefer cans in certain circumstances where bottles are often not allowed or convenient, such as beaches, parks, pools, sporting events, boats and airplanes. Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans will be available in 12-packs nationwide beginning early summer, for a suggested retail price of $14.99-17.99 (price varies by market).

You can also read additional information about what went in to the design of the can at BostInno and also at Boston.com’s Sam Adams: Now (finally) in a can.

Of course, the fact that many other regional breweries have put their beer in cans, too — Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Brooklyn Brewery, RedHook, etc. — has to have been a factor, too. Still, for can fans this is great news. Cans have outsold beer in bottles for the big brewers for decades, and at least as long as 1980, if not longer, so it only makes sense that as craft brewers grow larger that such a popular package would become part of their portfolios, as well, as they continue to take a bigger and bigger piece of the nationwide beer pie.

The Top Beer Brand Of 2012

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I don’t want to wade neck deep into the “craft vs. crafty” debate — I’m not quite finished digesting it all — so I’m trying to not comment too much about this, yet in this instance, I’m going to at least stick my toe into the murky waters of this issue. (Oh, and a hat tip to Evan Benn for tweeting about this.)

Ace Metrix, a company based in nearby Mountain View, has just released their list of the Top Brands and Ads of 2012. Ace Metrix characterizes themselves as “the new standard in television and video analytics.”

They picked the top brand in fifteen different broad categories. The award does not go to the company with the best product, but to the one that had the best advertising last year, that is whoever received the “highest average Ace Score for their body of work in 2012.” This is best illustrated by reviewing some of the other category “winners.” For example, Olive Garden won for restaurants, so that should tell you something.

In the category “Beverages — Alcoholic” the winner was Blue Moon. You can even view the five Blue Moon commercials that got the highest scores. Now, I like Blue Moon. It’s not a bad beer. It may not be my favorite wit, but unlike many other beers made by big companies, I will drink it if my choices are limited. I know its creator, Keith Villa (who also stars in the commercials), and I’ve judged with him at GABF several times. It’s a great entry level beer, and has been phenomenally successful in that regard and also in marketing itself as not being part of Coors, in the same way that Saturn cars did in setting themselves apart from GM.

But that’s the way of the world, at least in our peculiar pro-corporate brand of capitalism. In brewing, I have to say, things are a lot more transparent than in many other industries. There was also a Geekologie chart of Parent Companies and their Subsidiary Brands, but the site’s been more recently hacked, to get an idea of how literally hundreds of brands are owned by just ten corporations. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that most people weren’t aware of more than a few of those relationships, believing many of those brands to be independent or small companies, if they even cared at all.

Maybe it’s because in the world of beer geekdom we pay so much more attention, but most of the stealth brands like Blue Moon are open secrets. They may not talk about who owns the brands, but the information is out there and available if you bother to look. The thing is, most people don’t. If they like it, they drink it, and they buy it. Period.

Where the trouble comes in, I think, is when doing so infringes on another’s business ethos, or whatever. When small specialty breweries first started popping up, the big guys were initially somewhat helpful but as they began eating into their market share, things started to change. Over the years we’ve seen many attempts, with varying degrees of success, to copy or acquire anything that’s successful. In a sense it’s human nature, or certainly business nature. Do you think it’s an accident that after any successful film or television series, similar shows in the same genre proliferate with alarming alacrity?

But back to the Ace Metrix and their top brands of 2012. In their press release, in a section entitled “Brands of the Year Illuminate Many Notable Themes,” there’s this headline: “Craft Beer and Juice Beat Out Big Beer and Soda Brands.” Here’s the relevant bits about beer:

A changing of the guard was not only seen in the technology category, but also in the beverage category in which Blue Moon usurped the top spot from ‘big beer,’ and Ocean Spray ousted Coca-Cola from the winner’s platform. … Blue Moon swept the Alcoholic Beverage Category with an average Ace Score of 538, beating out big beer brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, all of which failed to even make the Watch List this year, a stark comparison to 2011.

See the problem? How can Blue Moon have usurped anything from “big beer” when it really is a big beer. And that’s why the Brewers Association had to come out with its recent controversial statement, because even professional business analysts don’t realize who owns what, so what chance do consumers have?

I’m going to steer clear of the BA’s statement itself, at least for now, except to say that I thought the excellent rebuttal by August Schell was heart-wrenching and perfectly illustrated the problems of such statements and definitions. Because those characterizations only matter internally, among insiders and the businesses and professionals working in those industries. And while once upon a time those inner workings remained … well, internal … today almost everything is out in the open, on the internet, and often what might better be private insider discussions become full-blown public debates. Sometimes, it’s simply exhausting.

It’s a bit like beer styles themselves. They only really matter in very rarified situations, like competition judging. In the real world, they matter very little. It’s the same with trying to define beer, or craft beer, or whatever we’re calling it now. I completely understand why the BA needs to define craft beer, because their mission is to promote craft beer. You have to know exactly what and who it is you’re promoting in order to do your job. I get that. From private discussions I had a few years ago with people who were involved in crafting the newer definition over about a year’s time, it was apparently a very contentious process and was extremely difficult because with every changed word, someone was excluded or someone you didn’t think belonged remained. It reminds me a little of a famous quip made by a Supreme Court justice in Jacobellis v. Ohio when, in trying to define hardcore pornography and create an obscenity threshold, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that it was difficult to define, but that “I know it when I see it.”

And that’s the problem, because how you define craft beer is, and should be, different things to different people, with varying priorities and concerns. It may be one thing to the BA, but something else entirely for an average consumer and yet again something more stringent to a hardcore beer geek. The thing is, everybody’s both right and wrong on this one, at least as I see it. When you’re talking about personal preference, it’s ultimately just that: personal. Like pornography or even religion, whatever you believe is correct, for you. Whatever you choose to drink is right for you. I may disagree with your choice, but that’s okay. Happily, they come in these little 12, 16 or 22 oz. bottles and cans, or can be poured into single-serving sizes of glassware, so that we can all just drink what we want, definitions be damned.

Mockingbird Beer Bottles

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Sam Wiley, a Brooklyn-based designer and advertising artist who’s done work for Anheuser-Busch, was asked to create packaging for a brand to be called “Mocking Bird Lager” and “Mockingbird Pilsner.” I don’t know if these were done for ABI – she doesn’t say — and as far as I know, no one has launched this line of beer, so it’s anybody’s guess, but it’s a great looking design. I don’t like clear glass because it’s not good for the beer, but from a purely design point-of-view she used the clear glass and the gold of the liquid to nice effect. I like that they don’t look like typical beer bottle designs and I think as the market gets more crowded, any brand’s ability to stand out on the shelf will become increasingly important.

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Naked Beer Cans

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This is an interesting design, generic beer cans, made to look as if they were essentially clear and showing the contents inside, albeit in an idealized way. They were created by Timur Salikhov, a designer from St. Petersburg, Russia.

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He starts with the premise “Why hide what good beer looks like?”

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And then he designed the cans to appear as if they were a freshly poured glass of beer. It’s fun concept and apparently he’d like to sell the idea to a brewery. I think the only unfortunate aspect of his design is that without additional branding on the package, it may look too generic. BUt it sure looks like a beer I’d like to open.

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Get Your Fill Of Growlers With The Next Session

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Our 60th Session returns to all things beer, and specifically Growlers Galore! That’s the topic chosen by this month’s host, Kendall Jones, of the Washington Beer Blog. Here’s what he’s thinking about growlers:

These days people take growlers for granted. In my neck of the woods, growlers are a relatively new phenomenon. I don’t know exactly when or why they appeared on the local beer scene, but it could not have been more than eight or ten years ago. Maybe they existed in obscurity before but today growlers are everywhere. I think. Growlers are very common around the Pacific Northwest, anyway. I cannot speak to their popularity in other beer regions. I’d love to know.

Tell us about your growler collection. Tell us why you love growlers or why you hate them. What is the most ridiculous growler you’ve ever seen? Tell us about your local growler filling station. Ever suffer a messy growler mishap? Anything related to growlers is acceptable.

I happen to prefer draft beer over bottled or canned beer and growlers make it very easy for me to enjoy draft beer at home. My growler collection is quite enormous and I even have a special device installed in the back seat of my car to securely transport up to three growlers at a time.

So put down that bottle or can and fill up a growler … and the page with your take on growlers. See you here next month — February 3, 2012 — where you can growl all you want about growlers.

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Cambridge Brewing Hinting At Bottling

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Tip of the hat to Todd Alstrom from Beer Advocate , who noticed that Cambridge Brewing Co.‘s Will Meyers tweeted out a link to a short survey asking his customers a few questions about buying beer in bottles, suggesting the brewpub is considering bottling some of the their beer. Here’s the introduction to the survey.

Thank you for taking the time to fill out this survey. Your answers will help determine the future of a Cambridge Brewing Company bottling program, and provide you with the beers you want in your local store. At this time, we are only in the beginning stages of planning our roll-out, but our success depends on you. So please let us know what you think, and what you want to drink.

Will later confirmed CBC’s plan to bottle, tweeting “Yup! Damn PSYCHED!” And to another, tweeted back that they’re “Considering it, but most interested in making our funkier beers. Lots of great ambers/pales out there already!” So that suggests they’re considering bottling the more interesting one-off and barrel-aged beers that Will has marinating in the basement … er, cellar. And that, I think, is most excellent news.

Next Session Opens A Can, Bottle, Cask Or Keg

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Our 48th Session will be hosted by Simon Johnson of the Reluctant Scooper. His topic is “Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle?,” or as he describes the question:

The method of beer dispense often raises the hackles of even the most seasoned beer drinker. Some evangilise about living, breathing cask as being the one true way. Others heartily support the pressurised keg. The humble tinny has its fans. Lovers of bottled beer, either conditioned or pasturised, can be equally voiciferous.

Perhaps you think that one method magnifiies a beer’s impact. Perhaps you won’t try a beer if it’s dispensed in a way you don’t agree with. Perhaps you’ve tried one beer that’s been dispensed every which way.

The question is simple but your answer may not be: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

So tap a keg, pull a pint, pop a cap or open a can of whoop-ass on the next Session on Friday, February 4.