As evidenced in the whimsical names of the company’s diverse brews, Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, MT, was founded with the purpose of “making water fun” by marrying the enjoyment of outdoor leisure with character-rich craft beers. Established as a draft only brewery in 1995, the regional brewer now bottles six full-release varieties and several limited edition brews each year, distributing to 22 states. In a move to accommodate the active lifestyles of its core consumers, Big Sky recently released its flagship brand, Moose Drool Brown Ale, and its Trout Slayer Ale in beverage cans supplied by Crown Beverage Packaging North America, a business unit of Crown Holdings Inc.
Within the craft brewing industry, beer is packaged in glass bottles predominantly. So the 12-oz. aluminum cans adopted by Big Sky turned heads when they hit the market in the spring of this year. Jane Lund, the mother of Big Sky cofounder Bjorn Nabozney, contributed the can’s artwork. To translate the artwork faithfully to the cans, Crown’s graphics department worked with Big Sky to apply the artwork, transforming it from processed color to spot color and incorporating sepia tones for a unique, high-quality look.
Each package depicts a different outdoor scene. The Moose Drool Brown Ale can features a moose drinking from a lake colored in shades of copper and gold to mimic sunset. The serene image offers a rich contrast to the bright red lettering. Big Sky’s Trout Slayer Ale has an illustration of a fisherman reeling in a trout. The spectrum of blue to black shades implies the coolness of nighttime. “The imagery is about where you want to be, not where you’re at,” Nabozney says. “With help from Crown’s graphics department, the cans turned out beautifully.”
In addition to lending a quality image to the product, the new metal packaging also possesses added functionality and sustainability benefits to appeal to consumers. “We were interested in pursuing aluminum for a long time because of the versatility it offers,” Nabozney says. “Our consumers enjoy outdoor activities. We pay homage to that kind of adventurous spirit and respect for nature with the package’s artwork. The aluminum cans are also recyclable, lightweight, and do not shatter, making them great to take on rugged adventures and allowing Big Sky’s products to become part of those memorable experiences.”
In choosing metal, Big Sky also aimed to connect a passion for outdoor activities with a passion for the environment. Metal is 100% recyclable in a true material-to-material loop, and the metals used in cans can be recycled infinitely with no degradation in quality. By adopting metal cans, Big Sky reduced the weight of a case of beer from 36 lbs. to 20 lbs., enabling the company significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Metal’s opaqueness also provides a superior barrier to light and oxygen, ensuring longer-lasting freshness.
“Since we adopted metal packaging, other craft brewers have taken notice,” Nabozney says. “We’ve received many calls from them asking us how we did it.” To address the small run issue, Crown allowed Big Sky to split a single truckload of cans between two SKUs, which made shipments both manageable and affordable. To help ease the transition to canning, Crown’s Customer Technical Service (CTS) team offered in-depth training on Big Sky’s new filling equipment and remained present for the initial runs. Big Sky also participated in Crown’s Seaming School, a comprehensive on-site training program that offers a focused overview of the seaming process, tools for evaluation, and troubleshooting.
Having established a close working relationship, Big Sky plans to explore how to take advantage of other metal packaging innovations. For example, Crown is working with the brewer to install tooling for the application of its SuperEnd® beverage ends, which use 10% less metal than traditional beverage ends. “We always aim to work closely with our suppliers to improve our operations,” Nabozney says.