Russian River Brewing Co. canned beer coming to store shelves near you

Starting this fall, Russian River Brewing Co. in Windsor will have canned beer on store shelves for the first time in its 26-year history.

“We are responding to a shift in consumer demand and trends in the marketplace,” said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of the brewery. “We are just dipping our toes — just these two beers that are super easy to drink and low in alcohol, the kind of beers we like to drink out of a can.”

In September, Russian River Brewing will start canning its STS Pils and Velvet Glow lagers in six-packs of 12-ounce cans after years of producing them in only bottles.

The plan is to print labels Sept. 1, can the beer Sept. 18, make cans available at pubs a week later and have them on store shelves in the first week of October.

Cans will be sold first at local independent markets like Oliver’s and later at Whole Foods. If all goes well, the lagers will be distributed elsewhere in the first quarter of 2024, mostly in California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

The company’s decision to expand production of its lagers also meant it needed to install new tanks to increase capacity.

Cilurzo expects to start with a total of 800 cases of the two lagers.

In the last decade, the trend for craft brewers has been to package beer in cans instead of bottles.

“Can share (of beer) used to be in single digits. Now it’s the majority of packaging, with 60% to 70% in cans by volume,” said Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association, a trade group for independent craft brewers.

Cans are cheaper to distribute because more cases fit on a pallet, compared to bottles, and they weigh less.

Russian River Brewing is unique in that it has both bottling and canning lines. Most breweries have one or the other, with some opting for mobile packaging companies instead of owning the equipment. The beverage maker pays the mobile companies to bring the canning or bottling equipment to where their beverage is made.

The Sonoma County brewery’s first foray into cans was in late 2019.

“Pliny for President was one of the first beers we put in cans. That was in 2020. It sold like hotcakes,” Cilurzo said.

Those cans were sold direct to consumer via online sales and through the company’s gift shops. That’s been true of all of Russian River Brewing’s cans — they have only been available online or at the brewery’s Windsor or Santa Rosa locations.

All of its canned beers until now have been 16 ounces. A few parts have to be changed out on the canning line to go from 16 to 12 ounces.

“We have a lot of demand for cans. The consumer likes the ease and convenience of a can. They are lightweight. It will give us a different shelf placement in stores as well,” Cilurzo said.

Russian River Brewing hopes to attract new customers as well as convert people to switch from the bottled lagers to cans. Bottled beer will still be available.

“The jury is out on switching any more of our beers to 12-ounce cans,” Cilurzo said. “Switching Pliny the Elder to a can might not be a great branding move. For now, we will stick with our iconic bottle. It’s almost like a perfect pint; it’s almost 16 ounces.”

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