Craft beer cans are growing up, literally. Head to your nearest convenience store to find lines of (primarily) IPAs in a size just a little bit bigger than craft beer’s signature 16-ouncer. Why are so many breweries packaging their beers in 19.2-ounce cans? Who is this taller option for? And what’s the deal with the 0.2, anyway?
One word comes up repeatedly around 19.2-ounce cans: “convenience.”
The size offers convenience—when Firestone Walker Brewing Co. announced the 19.2-ounce-ification of its 8.3-percent Double Hopnosis IPA said the move was for “ultimate convenience”—and it’s most commonly associated with convenience stores.
While craft beer has struggled in its traditional channels, gas stations and convenience stores are a rare bright spot. According to reported data from National Retail Solutions, beer volume in these stores grew 5.3% January to March 15, 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, while growth for all beer across all retail venues was only 1.4 percent. Craft beer in particular increased nearly nine percent year-over-year.
“The 19.2-ounce convenience consumer is a different occasion-based consumer than the six-pack consumer,” says Scott Powell, director of marketing at Bell’s Brewery, which cans its 7% Two Hearted Ale, 7.5% ABV Hazy Hearted Ale, and 5.8% ABV Oberon in 19.2 ounces. Consumers in convenience stores are looking for a quick grab to enjoy immediately. Alongside the growth of craft beer in convenience comes the growth of 19.2-ounce cans.
Stovepipes driving growth
The tall cans are craft beer’s No. 1 dollar growth driver just ahead of 12-pack cans, says Joe Sepka, co-founder of consulting and data analytics firm 3 Tier Beverages. “Although a sizable portion of that growth is driven by a single brand (New Belgium), there are quite a few regional and local brands also entering this space as well.” Craft 19.2-ounce retail sales are up 57 percent overall versus a year ago in the last 26 weeks across craft according to NielsenIQ retail scan data, which Sepka explains is driven partially by pricing growth but mostly by increasing overall volume and new placements.
Breweries want to meet consumers where they’re at: on the go, looking for a more-bang-for-their-buck buy, and at music and sporting venues where the fewer concession stand trips, the better. They’re also grasping for some of that New Belgium Voodoo Ranger magic.
The popularity of those skeleton cans
Voodoo Ranger’s Imperial IPA saw its dollar sales hop up by 20.9% from August 2021 to August 2022, per market research firm IRI, and its Juice Force IPA weighed in at No. 5 in the multi-outlet and convenience stores IRI tracks. The brand has been a runaway success, allowing it to blaze the trail for beer beyond macros in convenience stores and then also remain on that market’s throne.
Of course, New Belgium didn’t invent the 19.2-ounce can, often called stovepipes. The idea of a larger, single-serve format comes via macro beer’s 24-ouncers. Ten years after being the first craft brewery to successfully package beer in cans, Oskar Blues unveiled its Dale’s Pale Ale in 19.2-ounce cans in 2012. Within a few years, the size gained devoted fans.
When Anchor Brewing canned its Steam Beer for the first time, it chose 19.2 ounces. Brewmaster Dane Volek says the shift made sense when thinking about the next step after 22-ounce glass bombers waned in consumer interest, a progression also cited by Port Brewing co-founder Tomme Arthur.
Anchor, Port, and other breweries saw stovepipes as a way to still give consumers a lower-commitment alternative to four or six-packs, with the quick convenience of an easy-to-carry, easy-to-crack can.
This craft answer to the single-serve is an imperial pint, 20 British ounces—that’s where the 0.2 comes from. It’s the same diameter as a 16-ounce can, which comes in handy for canning-line flexibility.
For Anchor, Volek adds, “19.2-ounce cans are the largest size that will take a standard can end. They maximize liquid volume without the need to make major modifications to the package lines.”
Big cans and high ABV
Stovepipe cans also offer more bang for the space they take up, a big reason why higher ABV beers seem to dominate this format. Beverage reporter and editor Kate Bernot, in an interview, said this is the specific decision-making behind convenience-store beer purchases.
“You’re on the move, you’re popping in on the way to the park or a friend’s barbecue…you want something easy to carry, concentrated, and compact,” she says. “That’s where the high ABV comes in because you think, ‘This might be the only beer I have where I’m going’…It’s easier to carry than a six-pack of 4% lager.”
Convenience store trade association NACS released data in 2021 showing that 83% of items, whether they’re snacks, soda, or beer, purchased in these outlets are consumed within one hour.
Convenience-store customers are on their way somewhere—home, the park, a friend’s house—and it’s likely any beer they buy is for the now, so they want more alcohol in one or two easy-to-carry cans. They’re not looking to lug around a six-pack, they’re looking for an efficient way to imbibe in the immediate future. And that might mean wanting that 8% ABV buzz from one can rather than working one’s way up over three cans of lighter beer from a pack.
Plenty of breweries offer a variety options, too—Alaskan Brewing packages its 6.2% ABV Icy Bay IPA, 4.8% ABV Pilsner, and 7.5% ABV Juneau Juice IPA in 19.2 ounces—but many recognize the consumer’s desire for an efficient and economical buzz. After seeing success with their 8.6% ABV Deadlift Imperial IPA in stovepipes, Widmer Brothers brand manager Jake Neilson said they decided to offer their new 8% ABV Imperial Hefe in the size. It’s one of the anomalies in a format flooded by the IPAs consumers are so familiar with.
Tall format challenges
19.2 ounces don’t equate to immediate success for every brewery, however. The physical canning shift hasn’t proven too challenging for many, especially considering stovepipes’ and 16-ouncers’ shared diameter. However, that flexibility only applies to breweries able to budget for adding another size to their can orders, and who either implemented adjustable canning lines or use mobile canning lines. Breweries doing the latter are likely among those small enough to render stovepipes not worth the extra effort and investment (larger breweries are more likely to have the kind of distribution that can get them into convenience stores and gas stations, at the very least throughout their entire state—without that, there’s not much point in offering stovepipes), so that leaves 19.2-ounce territory to bigger breweries with adjustable canning lines and more substantial supply budgets.
The right place and price
The obstacles don’t end when a craft brewery gets into convenience stores, either. Can they then price their beer to compete with macro brands?
“The price points are really low for single-serve cans,” says beer journalist and author of The Complete Beer Course Joshua M. Bernstein. “We’re talking between three and four bucks…it doesn’t make sense for smaller breweries to downplay in that realm, [who are] never going to meet those efficiencies.”
For breweries with the canning lines, supply budgets, and sufficient distribution, the ability to sell in convenience can justify the means. “While there is certainly a slight hit on margins by filling 3.2 ounces more into one can, [that’s] more than made up for in volume,” says Great Lakes CEO Mark King.
Because of the volume breweries could potentially move if the distribution and pricing stars align, we can expect to see more experiment to see if convenience store, gas station, and entertainment venue sales make necessary investments worth it over the next few years. But not all attempts will succeed.
Stovepipes in all their convenience are here to stay, but whether they’ll represent relatively smaller craft breweries compared to behemoths like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada remains to be seen as the trend matures.
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article inadvertently omitted insight and a quote from beverage reporter Kate Bernot. A link to further information regarding National Retail Solutions statistics has also been added. The post has been updated.