Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins stands near a stack of 16-ounce cans that will soon be filled with Hoppy Table Beer as the company tests out a container other than bottles. Canning is “something we’re excited to learn more about,” he said. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

For Portland’s Allagash Brewery, change comes in the form of a sea-foam green, 16-ounce aluminum can. The brewery, which until now has only sold its beer in bottles, has purchased its first canning line and will start making test runs next week.

But change at Maine’s largest brewery will come at a very slow drip. Allagash will be canning only one of its beers, Hoppy Table Beer, and the four-packs will be available only at the brewery on Industrial Way in Portland.

The move represents the end of an era of changeover in Maine’s beer industry. Six years ago, two of the state’s 10 largest breweries canned their beer. Now just two of the state’s 10 largest breweries sell their beer only in a bottle.

The canning line for Allagash Hoppy Table Beer, photographed Thursday. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins says the brewery wants to make sure it maintains high quality standards before possibly distributing the beer more broadly.

“It’s something we’re excited to learn more about,” Perkins said. “We have a pretty good level of knowledge about canning, but not a firsthand, everyday knowledge about it. We’re taking that pretty seriously. One beer, one package, sold only here, so we could really focus on the quality side of things.”

Perkins said Allagash spent almost as much on quality-testing equipment as it did on the new canning line. The equipment cost tens of thousands of dollars, which the brewer won’t likely recoup by selling the cans only at its Portland brewery, he said. The four-packs will go on sale in a couple of months, after the company is satisfied that the quality is up to its standards.

The Hoppy Table Beer cans are essentially a test run. If the industry trend toward cans continues, it’s possible the company’s flagship beer – White, which accounts for about 70 percent of the brewery’s production – could one day end up in cans.

“There’s no question we have on our minds the future of potentially doing another beer and selling further than just our own store,” Perkins said. “At this point, there’s no timeline for that. We really view this as doing things in a methodical, slow way, the way we’ve always done things here. It allows us to make sure we learn the trade before we take any further step forward.”

Cans are considered to be more portable by drinkers. They also keep out all ultraviolet light, which can be detrimental to beer over time. Bottles are said to be better for aging beers.

Dan Kleban, co-founder of Maine Beer Co., says the differences are minimal.

“The way I look at it is, there’s pluses and minuses to cans, bottles, growlers, you name it,” Kleban said. “I don’t think one is inherently better than the other in terms of the quality. To me, what makes way more difference than what kind of package you put the beer in is what you’ve done upstream to make sure the beer that you put into the can or bottle is high-quality, free of oxygen, et cetera. That’s gonna make way more difference than whether your vessel is made of aluminum or glass.”

Of the state’s top 10 largest producers, Maine Beer Co. is only one that doesn’t can some of its beer. That isn’t going to change anytime soon, Kleban said.

“It’s not a value judgment. There’s nothing wrong with cans,” Kleban said. “But our brand has almost become iconic with our particular bottle and label. We believe a bottle lends itself to a well-rounded experience or an occasion, like when you get a bottle of wine.”

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

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