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The Wynkoop's canny new strategy

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The Wynkoop Brewing Co. was the first modern-era brewpub to open its doors in Denver, and this summer, it plans to become the first city brewery to sell its beer in cans.

"We're pushing for June," says new Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown, who got the project off the ground by persuading the owners of the Wynkoop's holding company that they needed to diversify. "The way I talked them into it was because I used to work for Oskar Blues, and I took them up there and showed them how much success they've had."

Oskar Blues Brewery, in Lyons and Longmont, opened in 2002 as the first microbrewery in the country to exclusively can its own beer. It now cans five beers, including its signature brew, Dale's Pale Ale, and a new one called Mama's Little Yella Pils.

The "canned beer apocalypse," as Oskar Blues labeled its business plan, caused a stir among craft breweries across the country that believed cans would ruin the taste of specialty beers. But Oskar Blues has shown otherwise, and other brewers nationwide have begun canning, including Durango's Ska Brewing and a Boulder upstart, Upslope Brewing. Even that craft-beer giant, New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, decided to experiment with a canned version of its signature Fat Tire Amber Ale last summer. Sales went so well that the brewery will can a second beer, Sunshine Wheat, beginning in May.

Brown says modern cans have a lining that prevents beer from picking up a metallic taste, which is why he has no problem starting off with the Wynkoop's best-known brand, Railyard Ale, in addition to the much darker Silverback Porter. Both beers will be available on the menu and in six-packs to go from the brewery. In addition, Wynkoop Holdings, which also owns the Goosetown Tavern, the Wazee Supper Club and the Cherry Cricket, among others, will offer a canned-beer happy hour at all of its restaurants.

"It's an up-and-coming thing," Brown says, citing an Information Resources, Inc. study showing that canned craft-beer sales grew at an average of 29 percent annually between 2003 to 2008. "Starting up is not a huge investment, so it is easy for us to get into it," he adds. "And in this economy...it would be good to have another way to sell our beer."

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