Slump Makes U.S. Beer Drinkers Reach for Cans: Chart of the Day

The frosty can of beer is making a comeback in the U.S. as the recession and proliferation of smaller breweries drives demand away from bottles and draft.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows almost 53 percent of the beer consumed in 2011 was served in an aluminum can, up from a low of 48 percent in the years leading to the economic slump that began in December 2007. After peaking at 60 percent in 1991, the container’s popularity gave way to bottles and glasses amid growing demand for foreign brews.

The last recession helped reverse that trend as Americans became cost conscious, pushing demand back toward more affordable canned beer. Also supporting the resurgence is an increase in the number of craft beers available in cans. As of the end of 2010, there were 1,693 breweries in the U.S., an increase of more than 2,000 percent from the mid-1980s.

“The image of beer in cans has changed,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association. Since the recession, “two segments have done well, the below-premium budget beers and the high-end craft beers,” he added. “Historically, budget beers have been packaged in cans, and have been priced ridiculously low.”

Hipsters, a subculture of urban, young adults whose tastes run toward independent music and films and non-traditional fashion, may have given the trend another push when Pabst Blue Ribbon, the flagship brew of Pabst Brewing Co., became one of their signature drinks.

Total beer consumption in the U.S. has declined since 2007, falling by about 7 percent. According to the Beer Institute, each American drank about 162 pints of beer in 2011, roughly 12 fewer than in 2008.

During the recession, “I might not be able to take vacations and spend money on big-priced items,” Papazian added. “Beer has a much better return or value.”