Beer Man

Aluminum Shortage Forces Clever Solutions at Oskar Blues and Ska

Aluminum Shortage Forces Clever Solutions at Oskar Blues and Ska
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
As cans of beer and wine replace bottles in America's overly sanitized, stay-at-home hands, the country is facing a shortage of aluminum — because, well, we just can't have nice things.

On top of that, there has been "a dramatic shift to aluminum cans as the preferred package for craft beers" over the past few years, according to the Brewers Association. And that shift in consumer and producer preference has not been limited to beer. Soft drinks, seltzers, waters, coffees, kombuchas, energy drinks and other segments of the beverage industry" have seen a similar pattern, the organization says.

The result is that craft breweries are having a harder time finding ways to package their beers, which is especially problematic now, during the pandemic, when many people prefer to take their booze to go.

As a result, two of Colorado's largest canning breweries, Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont and Ska Brewing in Durango, are planning an unusual shift. They will begin wrapping previously printed cans in new labels.

"For many reasons, such as old inventory, misprints or errors in forecasting, millions of aluminum cans go unused each year," Ska writes. "Beginning this week, Ska fans will notice a new look on some of their favorite brews, and for a brewery known for a strong graphic focus on its packaging, it might come as a bit of a surprise."

click to enlarge A mockup of what what of the re-wrapped cans may look like. - SKA BREWING
A mockup of what what of the re-wrapped cans may look like.
Ska Brewing
In other words, beer drinkers who buy The Tropical Hazy IPA, Ska's brand-new beer, might see the label wrapped around a can that was previously printed up to package beers like Moral Panic Brut IPA or Rudie Session IPA. (Ska already owned a labeling machine for small-batch beers.) So there could be hints of other colors and graphics peeking out from above or below the Ska labels.

Since big breweries order cans in enormous quantities, they are often left with a surplus if the beer doesn't sell as well as hoped (like Moral Panic) or if plans change (as with Rudie).

"As you know, we’re better brewers than planners, so these mistakes aren’t uncommon," explains Ska sales director Kristen Muraro. "Normally if we knew we were never going to use them, we would have them recycled, which is a bummer, because that is essentially paying twice to create waste."

If the "candemic," as Ska calls it, runs into 2021, as many industry experts are forecasting, Muraro says Ska will continue to use its existing inventory and then switch to using cans from other breweries that may have old inventory as well, particularly if those breweries don’t have the means to reuse/label the cans themselves.

Oskar Blues hasn't made an announcement about its plans, but it has filed for a new label design that explains why its cans of Dale's Pale Ale might look a little different.

"2020 is weird. First toilet paper, now aluminum. But there's no way some supply chain shenanigans would stop us from getting the freshest mutha of a pale ale to you," the label reads. "We repurposed some cans and kept the beer flowin'."

Oskar Blues is even asking fans to take pictures of the cans and post them on social media with the hashtag #DaleDontStop. 
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes