A Crush on Cans: Wynkoop vs. Breckenridge

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 is featuring an online article each day this week about some aspect of craft-beer canning. Click here for previous stories on Oskar Blues and Ska Brewing; look below for today's on the Wynkoop and Breckenridge.

Two Canny Operators

The race is on to see which of Denver's two mightiest brewpubs will can its signature beer first. In one corner, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, founded in 1988 by now Mayor John Hickenlooper, plans to stuff its Railyard Ale and Silverback Porter into cans beginning in mid-June. In the other corner, the Breckenridge Brewery, founded in 1990 in Breckenridge and now with two additional locations in Denver and one in Grand Junction, plans to pour its Avalanche Ale into aluminum vessels beginning June 1.

Who will win? Maybe both breweries.

Wynkoop's head brewer Andy Brown is a veteran of Oskar Blues in Lyons - the first brewery in the nation to make and can its own beers -- and has helped guide the Wynkoop's canned beer attack.

The brewery purchased its canning line (which will produce twelve to fifteen cases a day) from Canada's Cask company, which also sold to Oskar Blues, and will get its cans from the Ball Corporation plant in Golden, which supplies aluminum to most of the state's canners.

The beer will be available first at the Wynkoop in the form of six-packs to go or at the table, but it will probably spread to Wynkoop Holdings's other five restaurants, including the Goosetown Tavern, the Wazee Supper Club and the Cherry Cricket, Brown says.The Wynkoop may eventually even sell six-packs on retail shelves.

Breckenridge, meanwhile, is borrowing its canning line from Ska Brewing Company in Durango, and will first supply concert venues, golf courses and other places where glass bottles are not allowed or not convenient, says brewery director Todd Usry.

"We had been in a sixteen-ounce plastic bottle with Avalanche for the past three summers. But the feedback we got was that a can would be more viable," he says. Cans are also good for Colorado, he adds, because it's hard to take glass camping, hiking or rafting.

The cans will come from Rexam PLC, a packaging company with a Phoenix plant; that deal was set up by Breckenridge's bottle broker, Usry says. Breckenridge will also sell six-packs at liquor stores, but in limited quantities. "This line will only do 135 to 140 cases a day, and that's working eight hours," he explains.

So as the Wynkoop tinkers with its label and works with a brand development company, Breckenridge is practicing with test cans on its hand-canning line. But both of them are almost ready to pop the top, and June could be a very good month.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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