Iron City goes aluminum

Pittsburgh Brewing says metal bottles keep beer colder

Aug 25, 2004 - Pittsburgh Brewing Co., which pioneered the snap-top can and the twist off, re-sealable bottle cap, will begin bottling its flagship Iron City Beer in a new aluminum bottle. Officials are counting the new eye-popping packaging to fuel growth at one of the nation's few remaining regional breweries.


In recent days, teaser billboards have gone up around the city with the red backdrop of the Iron City logo replaced with the tagline "Save Our City" that will eventually be replaced with a campaign to herald the new bottles.

The 143-year-old brewery is about a month away from a Sept. 30 deadline to make a $3.5 million payment to the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority in order to prevent its water supply from being terminated,.

The idea is that aluminum bottles will keep beer colder for as much as 50 minutes longer than a glass bottle, says Alcoa, which will provide the aluminum for the cans. The bottles are also lighter, resealable and unbreakable. Alcoa suggests the innovation - which is already used for beer in Japan - is in line with early reforms like the pull-top aluminum can, which they introduced with Pittsburgh Brewing in 1962. Other milestones in beer-bottling history include the crown bottle cap (1892), the aluminum can (1957), the plastic bottle (1970) and the stay-on tab, which was developed by Reynolds, later merged with Alcoa, in 1974. It has been 30 years since the last major innovation in beer bottling.

Brian Masters, of Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale - the city's largest beer wholesaler, which does not distribute Pittsburgh Brewing products - said he's not worried about losing market share to the new Iron City aluminum bottle.

"I have a lot of respect for (Pittsburgh Brewing). They're a good regional brewery, but you can put it in a gold bottle, and it's still Iron City and will have limited market presence."

Bjorn Nabozney, co-founder of Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, Mont., which has sold some of its Moose Drool Brown Ale and Scape Goat Pale Ale in an aluminum bottle, said he believes such bottles are the "future of beer packaging."

"It gets colder faster and stays colder longer, and it's a lot lighter than glass," he said, adding that it prevents light from degrading the beer's freshness.

Nabozney is hoping more breweries switch to the aluminum bottle, which will drive down the cost. His cost per bottle is about 50 cents, compared to about 15 cents for glass, although he said the volumes at which Pittsburgh Brewing will be buying will allow its costs to be somewhat lower.