A Crush on Cans: Steamworks, Upslope and more

It's American Craft Beer Week - seven days that even the United States Congress felt should be set aside for drinking micro brews. But Colorado's beer culture is worth a deeper look, since 100 craft breweries operated here in 2008, producing 75,000 barrels of delicious beer.

Of particular interest is the continued growth of canned micro brews, a trend that started in 2002 at Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons and continues with at least seven other breweries that now can their beers and two that are about to start.

To laud the pioneering spirit of Colorado's canned crusaders, Westword has featured an online article each day this week about some aspect of craft-beer canning. Click here for previous stories on Oskar Blues, Ska Brewing, the Breckenridge and Wynkoop breweries, and Ball Corporation, the company that makes the cans. For today's story on several other canned crusaders, look below.

Steamworks, Upslope and more

Oskar Blues and New Belgium may be the best-known craft-beer canners in Colorado, but there are several breweries worshipping at the aluminum altar.

Ska Brewing has been canning since 2003, and Pug Ryan's Steakhouse and Brewery in Dillon sells its Morningwood Wheat in a can from the bar and in Summit County. Although the Tommyknocker brewpub in Idaho Springs no longer cans any of its beer, the Wynkoop and Breckenridge breweries in Denver will both start next month.

That leaves the Arctic Craft Brewery in Colorado Springs, Steamworks Brewery in Durango and Upslope Brewing in Boulder, which went into business last fall as the second brewery in Colorado to rely entirely on cans for its packaging.

Sadly, Arctic's owner, John Dunfee, reached today as he was delivering his last shipment of beer, tells me that the entire operation, in existence since 2002, had been shut down amidst litigation between Dunfee and his business partner.

"We're splitting up, and the company's going down," he says. "I'll still homebrew, but as far as retailing, I just don't know." Arctic had been canning its On-On American Pale Ale, which was brewed especially for the local Hash House Harriers Running Club.

In Durango, Steamworks is getting ready to begin canning its third beer, Steam Engine Lager, says manager and co-owner Jason Haley. Colorado Kolsch is a lighter beer similar to a pilsner, but with a touch of sweetness. Steamworks also cans Steam Engine Lager and Third Eye Pale Ale, although you'll find them mostly in bottles around Denver.

"Well, we have a river running through Durango, and cans are the preferable way to take your beer on the river and the easiest to recycle," Haley says. Since it costs about $40,000 to buy the cans and supplies needed to can each new label, he adds that the brewery will wait and see how sales go on its first three canned beers.

Upslope gets the same questions, says marketing director Henry Wood, but since the brewery has only been open for five and a half months, he feels like they're doing pretty good with their pale ale and their IPA, which both come in industrial-looking cans.

"Logistically, one of the things you have to deal with in cans is that you don't just buy a bunch of brown bottles and put different labels on them. There are minimum orders for each run of cans," he explains. (See our story on Ball Corporation for more.)

"And we've got a hand-canning system...so it takes three guys to do twelve cans a minute when they are really moving," he adds.

Still, he says, "with Oskar Blues paving the way, we are sort of anticipating a canned craze." Upslope was founded by Matt Cutter, a high-tech industry employee who'd always wanted to open a brewery. So far, the company has 43 accounts in Boulder County, but none in Denver, although Wood hopes to change that this summer.

In the meantime, the company will focus on planning its next beer and on running its tap room, which will be ready to sell you a pint on May 27.

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