New Belgium's Sunshine Wheat gets canned

New Belgium Brewing, which began canning its signature Fat Tire amber ale last summer, will release a second aluminum-clad brew, Sunshine Wheat, in April or May. The move gives more credence to the growing popularity of canned craft beers - a trend that began in 2002 when the Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons unveiled Dale's Pale Ale.

Fort Collins-based New Belgium has been running a poll on its website asking fans which one of its beers they'd like to see in a can. Although the results were skewed because one possible answer was Fat Tire, which is already in a can, Sunshine Wheat came in a strong third.

As of March 3, Fat Tire had received 123 votes, or 34 percent; 1554 got 70 votes, or 19 percent; and Sunshine Wheat scored 65 votes, 18 percent.

Sunshine Wheat is a lighter, filtered wheat beer with hints of coriander and orange peel. It has a lower alcohol volume at 4.8 percent.

New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson says the choice was clear. "Some beers lend themselves more to the canned format, more so than the Abbeys or Trippels," he explains, but quickly adds that he'd never say never -- particularly since Abbey and Trippel are two of New Belgium's biggest beers in both taste and alcohol volume.

New Belgium's canning line can produce only about sixty cans per hour, so cans can't account for more than 5 to 10 percent of the brewery's output unless it brings in more equipment, he says. Fat Tire is still primarily made and sold in bottles. But with sales of the canned version meeting or exceeding forecasts, you never know.

Last year, the brewery studied the environmental impact of beer-making. One of the papers it produced measured the life cycle of a six-pack of Fat Tire in bottles. An updated version with the life cycle of a canned six-pack is due out soon, Simpson says.

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