Like a growing number of craft brewers, Mike Bristol foresaw an end to the bottle monopoly. As a canny businessman, though, the Bristol Brewing Co. owner wasn't in a rush.
"We were kicking around how to do canning down the road, but we just wanted to do it right," Bristol said. Several companies sell small canning systems and offer mobile operations that will do the job on-site, but the outcome can vary wildly, he said.
"Cans have fantastic quality if you do it right - just like putting beer in a bottle," Bristol said. "It made sense not to do something that was subpar."
A conversation with Brian Dunn, founder of Great Divide Brewing Co., led to the next step in Bristol Brewing's aluminum path. The Denver-based brewery recently completed a massive production facility with a "beautiful canning line," Bristol said. The collaboration between the craft brewing classmates - both founded in 1994 - seemed a natural one.
"They're still growing into that facility. The more we talked about it, the more it made sense," Bristol said. "We've got some flexibility with volumes because they've got plenty of capacity, and the quality coming out of there is fantastic."
Bristol's beers are brewed in Colorado Springs and transported, by Great Divide beer tanker, to Denver for canning.
"This week, we did the first three runs - 3,600 cases - and that was pretty exciting," Bristol said before Sunday's release party for canned versions of three flagships, Laughing Lab Scottish-style ale, Compass IPA and Beehive honey wheat. "We're trying to start off pretty conservatively and get the beer off the ground and see what the demand will be."
He suspects demand will be high. Canned beer isn't just a throwback trend. In Colorado, especially, it's a practical one.
"I think the reason that cans are so popular in Colorado is because people have a pretty active outdoor lifestyle. This takes what people already love about Bristol beer and gives them a lighter means to be able to enjoy it," Bristol said. "You can throw a couple of cans of Compass IPA in your backpack for a day trip. And, there are certain specific areas where glass doesn't work - on a golf course, at stadium venues or on a raft."
Redesigning beloved labels for a 360-degree format presented a creative challenge, but Bristol said he believes fans will agree that "those can designs came out really nice. I think the design team did a really nice job of capturing and translating the brands."
Standard 12-ounce six-packs are available at Ivywild's Dry Goods Store and in liquor stores, select bars and restaurants, and pricing is consistent with that of bottles. Bristol said plans are to eventually add a fourth style to the canning line.
"We haven't really decided what that would be. It might even be a new beer; that's certainly a possibility," he said.