There was a time when craft brewers in the United States swore that they would never put their beer in cans. Eventually they gave into consumer demand and now aluminum cans are the portable packaging of choice for brewers across the country. Still, there are some that remain committed to glass and in Oregon a small group of brewers have been working with a company that will distribute reusable bottles.
Gigantic Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon is one of the breweries in the program and co-founder and brewer Ben Love shared information about the initiative and experience.
John Holl: How has the returnable bottle program been working and how did it come about?
Ben Love: The Oregon beer recycling cooperative that runs all the beverage recycling in the state put together this program. There are a 12-ounce bottle and a 500ml bottle. It’s been working out in all honesty, because it comes to us, it gets filled, it goes out, gets used, returned washed and then comes back to us and we refill it. I don’t think I need to tell people that refillable packaging is where we need to be. We’re seeing big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Unilever that are already experimenting with refillable packaging and trying to make that a regular part of their business. It makes sense for beer too.
John Holl: What are the benefits you’ve seen?
Ben Love: We all throw tons and tons of stuff away and so refillable is better than recycling because the energy impact is really low, as opposed to melting it down and reforming it.
John Holl: Is there a lot of interest, do you get contacted a lot by other breweries interested in the program?
Ben Love: Unfortunately, it is mostly Gigantic and Double Mountain Brewery on the beer side that is championing this packaging. We’ve decided to stick to our guns and try to get the people that care about this stuff to buy beer in these returnable bottles.
It’s a bit of an uphill battle. During COVID it worked out pretty well because no one was buying and draft so our bottles sales were really good and they are still good. We have customers that that love the bottles and love what we’re doing. And they obviously love the liquid inside of it. So they’re going to buy our beer whether it was in a bottle or a canner or whatever.
John Holl: Do the like the story behind the packaging?
Ben Love: They do. They really care about these things and want to buy things in a refillable package, as opposed to a can that gets recycled.
John Holl: So, it’s been a positive experience?
Ben Love: Customers are bringing us back the bottles all the time. Especially during COVID when we started doing home delivery. We’re like the milkman now.
John Holl: What sort of testing do the bottles go through?
Ben Love: Obviously, you’re cleaning everything out. And hopefully you’re not finding too many gross things inside of them. We ask customers to bring it back rinsed, but then it goes to a facility and they wash it, and then there are cameras and lasers that look for impurities or hairline cracks or anything else, and to make sure the bottle is actually clean and ready to go. Then it comes back to us.
John Holl: Any idea how many times a bottle might come through your brewery?
Ben Love: I think the average life is 25 fills and they can go longer than that.
John Holl: Do you think this will catch on?
Ben Love: I know at the end of the day that cans are lighter. If you’re going backpacking or going down to the lake or the river or whatever, it’s a lot easier to take some six packs of cans. But I do think people enjoy the experience of drinking out of a bottle a lot more. It’s just a throwback and a little more enjoyable.
This article originally appeared on ProBrewer.com in February 2022. All About Beer’s parent company has a partnership with ProBrewer.com to create original content for that website. New articles appear each week and subsequently are reposted on AllAboutBeer.com.