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One North Carolina brewer has its reasons.

Mike Pomranz
May 01, 2018

Over the past decade, the craft beer industry has undergone a sea change in its packaging choices. Bottles, once seen as the only way for good beer to be sold at retail, have given way to cans as the hip new container du jour for many of the world’s best brewers. Now, another new packaging is angling for a chance to take the craft world by storm. No, not boxed beer. (The box trend has apparently moved on to tequila.) Instead, we’re talking about a brand new type of craft beer-friendly plastic bottle.

As anyone who has attended enough major sporting events or concerts can tell you, though uncommon, plastic beer bottles aren’t new. The big brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors offer plastic bottles as an alternative at places where glass bottles could prove dangerous. But in America, at least, craft beer in plastic bottles is almost unheard of. However, about two years ago, the Michigan-based company Plastipak debuted a PET bottle intended to mimic a glass bottle in almost every way down to its crowned cap which requires a bottle opener to pop off. Though the packaging has already been used by some breweries overseas, last week, Charlotte, North Carolina’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery announced that it would be the first American craft brewery to use this unique plastic packaging.

In many ways, these Plastipak bottles offer similar benefits to cans. They don’t break, meaning they’re great for barefoot meccas like beaches and boats as well as large-scale events like stadiums and concerts. They’re also up to 85 percent lighter than glass, which is an added plus for transit. However, Olde Mecklenburg offers a different reason as to why the brewery held off on cans but jumped on the chance to use these PET bottles.

“One of the main reasons OMB avoided canning is the inclusion of a controversial compound called Bisphenol A (BPA) in can liners,” the brewery wrote in a press release. “All beer cans are lined with a BPA epoxy coating to prevent the beer from reacting with the aluminum. Studies have shown that this liner releases trace amounts of BPA into the beer…. While most food and beverage safety regulators have concluded that epoxy linings in cans are safe, many consumers have chosen to limit or avoid products that use them for a variety of reasons. OMB decided from the outset that it would follow suit, and the result of that mission is PET, which is 100% BPA-free.”

Suggesting that BPA is the reason Olde Mecklenburg chose to go with these PET bottle certainly opens up a can of worms (can pun intended). The safety of the compound has been an ongoing source of debate. And BPA is certainly a topic craft brewers face: For example, Sierra Nevada includes a question about it in its FAQ, stating, “We are one of the first companies in line to use a BPA-free liner as soon as it’s available. In our opinion, the benefits of cans—portability, lower carbon footprint, recyclability, and absolute protection from light and oxygen—outweigh the risk.” Meanwhile, though the FDA considers BPA safe, alcohol is a known carcinogen, and that’s apparently a risk all of us beer drinkers are willing to take.

But the BPA debate aside, as OMB’s Director of Brewing Operations Dave Martin said in a statement, these new Plastipak bottles check all the other boxes they were looking for as well. “We have put these PET bottles through extensive testing to ensure they uphold the same quality standards as our glass bottles,” he explained. “For venues that cannot use glass, PET is the best choice when all the criteria are taken into consideration.”

The brewery says they were able to customize its bottling line to handle both the new PET bottles and its standard glass bottles (which will still be its primary packing choice) and took about a year planning the new rollout. It’ll be interesting to see if other craft brewers choose to jump on board this potential PET bottle trend. And for what reasons.

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