BEER: Back Comes the Shortboy
After years of a pint-sized standard, one brewery reverts to the tried-and-true 12-ounce can
In the early days of the Charlotte craft beer revolution—2011, 2012—brewers scrambled for ways to distinguish their product from its mass-market counterparts. Of course the beer itself usually looked and certainly tasted different from Bud Light. But what would set them apart on the shelves? Colorful labels? Yeah. Funny names? Sure. What else? How about cans that towered above their 12-ounce competitors? Absolutely. One Charlotte brewery after another adopted the 16-ounce tallboy can, generally sold in four-packs, as its take-home standard—a decision that numerous independent brewers nationwide had already made.
These things go in cycles. Literally: On a rainy late-January morning, the filling equipment at NoDa Brewing’s main location on North Tryon Street whirs, clanks, and sends a line of cans to be filled and affixed with the familiar Hop Drop ’N Roll label. Something’s odd about the cans, though. They’re … short.
It’s the first day of NoDa Brewing’s—and, as far as I can tell, Charlotte craft beer’s—expansion into the realm of the 12-ounce can. The management team, including co-owner and Head Brewer Chad Henderson, decided about a year ago to sell six- and 12-packs of the smaller cans—in addition to, not in place of, the 16-ouncers. NoDa’s sales representatives have heard from store managers and consumers that while 16 ounces is great, some situations call for smaller serving sizes.
“It’s a little bit more friendly for, like, going on a trip or an outing, or going to a party and sharing beers around,” Henderson says. “It’s a little bit more versatile than just grabbing a bunch of four-packs of 16-ounce cans.”
The nation’s macrobreweries settled on 12 ounces in the early 20th century, it’s thought to accommodate a standard for the first mechanized canning systems. While many craft breweries adopted the 16-ounce can as its default, for the same reasons Charlotte breweries did, they’ve recently begun to swerve back toward 12.
COVID lockdown was one reason, according to a recent article in the online beverage industry publication VinePair: Brewers needed to find every way possible to sell their beer, and 12-packs let them occupy more space on supermarket shelves. And many fielded a complaint common to tallboys, especially on summer days: Those last 4 ounces aren’t as refreshing as the first. (This is when you learn why pilsners in particular are meant to be consumed cold.)
NoDa Brewing would have preferred to start earlier, but its designers had to alter the Hop Drop label to fit the smaller can, and supply chain issues delayed delivery of filling machine parts. As of late January, NoDa planned to stock store shelves with 12-packs of 12-ounce Hop Drop cans—“It’s the known brand,” Henderson says—and six-packs of a new IPA, Lil SLURP. It’s a more compact and lower-ABV version of Big SLURP, which the brewery released last year. (SLURP stands for, no lie, “Superior Lupulin Utilization Research Project.” Lupulin is the pollen-like substance in hops that produces flavor and odor.) If the smaller cans sell, NoDa will add other beers to the 12-ounce roster.
“There’s going to be some people, I’m sure, who only want to do the 16, and people who only want to do the 12,” Henderson says. “We just want people to have the option. That’s the biggest thing.”
GREG LACOUR is the editor.