Standing in an industrial unit in Cheltenham last year, Theo Freyne, founder of Deya Brewing, cracked open a tin of freshly brewed beer.
It was part of a batch worth £2,000 which had been brewing for three weeks on the company’s premises. It tasted good but, for Freyne, something wasn’t quite right: the packaging had been done by another company. He decided it was time to bring all aspects of production in-house.
‘We weren’t particularly happy with the quality we were getting. Nor was it very cost effective,’ says Freyne, who started with a basic malt extract starter kit but soon moved on to full-grain brewing.
Deya’s beers – typically ‘soft, intense, hoppy’ – have been sold in 16oz ‘tallboy’ cans since it opened its taproom and brewery in June 2016. It’s one of a growing number of craft breweries choosing tins over glass bottles.
Outsourcing packaging is often the default choice for food or drink startups, and breweries are no different. Constrained by money and eager to focus on the taste of the beer, companies from Crate Brewery in London to Vocation in Yorkshire have left packaging to specialists.
Freyne rejects the notion that a company with its own production facility is less agile than one which isn’t weighed down with the fixed costs of packaging. ‘We actually have more flexibility now. We can change the process, we can release when we want to, and there are no minimum order quantities,’ he says.
More than anything, however, Freyne explains what really motivated the decision. ‘Pursuing the best possible product pushed us to invest [in bringing packaging in-house].’
In recent years many independent beer brands switched from glass bottles to cans. In August 2017, Nielsen reported that cans accounted for more than a quarter of take-home craft beer sales – an increase of 327% on the start of the year.
Cans cost less, are easier to store and cheaper to move. Crucially, they also block out more light than glass bottles, making them more suitable for unpasteurised, more volatile beers. Cans also provide a better branding canvas because the entire surface can be printed on.
Canning equipment is expensive. For example, Beavertown Brewery spent £500,000 on its canning line. Bottles still tend to be perceived as higher quality and command higher prices, especially by restaurants.