As far as Backlash Beer Co. cofounder Helder Pimentel is concerned, the 22-ounce bottle format is over.
“Twenty-two ouncers are dead,” Pimentel says of the only packaging in which his beer has ever been available. “They’re not even dying, they’re just dead.”
When Backlash launched in 2011, the company was far from alone in releasing its beer in single bottles nearly twice as large as those you find in a typical six-pack. At the time, local, small-batch craft beer was special, and it seemed that consumers didn’t mind paying more per ounce for it.
“It’s an inexpensive way to get into the market,” says Pimentel. “At the time it was sort of par for the course. Everyone was rolling out bombers,” the industry nickname for 22-ounce bottles. “That was sort of where the demand was.”
Nearly five years later, everything has changed. The number of craft breweries operating in the US has more than doubled, from 1,989 in 2011 to more than 4,000 as of September last year.
“There’s a ton more competition right now,” says Pimentel. “It’s an awesome time to be a craft beer drinker. It’s a little more tricky to be a craft beer producer.”
In an effort to stay relevant, Backlash will move its beer into cans, a format that has gone from being a novelty to something of a necessity. Backlash doesn’t have its own brewery; up until this point, it has been making beer at Paper City Brewing Co. in Holyoke. Pimentel still plans to do some brewing there but will also be canning through a new partnership with Foolproof Brewing Co. in Pawtucket, R.I.
The new partnership allows Backlash to do something that it seems already should have been happening: brew and package its two flagship beers. It’s been nearly two years since consumers have been able to pluck Groundswell, a Belgian blond ale, and Ricochet, an IPA, off a store shelf. Backlash has been kegging those beers while offering bottled specialty one-offs like Muerte, an imperial stout brewed with Madagascar vanilla beans, cold-brewed coffee, and Scotch bonnet peppers.
Pimentel has been looking for a canning partner for at least two years, getting close to deals with several new brewers that have backed away because they’re hitting capacity by brewing their own beer. He says he’s pivoting because he has to.
“We’re coming up on five years in July, and we’re part of the old guard, so to speak,” says Pimentel. “It’s crazy to think that even at five years old, it’s hard to stay relevant. We don’t have the shiny-new-penny thing anymore. That can’t carry you as a brand; that’s not sustainable. You have to find a way to be top of mind.”
Pimentel expects four-packs of canned Backlash beers to start rolling out to retailers in six to eight weeks.Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen.