Iron-Clad Innovation
In August, Pittsburgh Brewing Co. embarked on a historical mission to introduce Iron City beer in aluminum packaging. Working with Alcoa, provider of the aluminum, and CCL Container, Hermitage, Pa., producer of the bottles, Pittsburgh Brewing launched 12-ounce aluminum bottles in its 28-state distribution network.
The relationship between the brewer and CCL Container began with sample testing for stability and line durability, according to Ed Martin, vice president of sales and marketing at CCL Container, Norwalk, Conn.
“Pittsburgh Brewing decided from Day One they were going to use this unique package to create value, and that they were going to charge a slight premium for the product. As a regional brewer it helped them go into other areas of the country with a higher-value product,” Martin says.
In addition to the obvious silver exterior to draw consumer attention on the retail shelf, the thermodynamic properties of the bottle keep the beer colder longer. Iron City’s aluminum packaging provides a rigid exterior, which is stronger than a standard beverage can and similar to glass. Marketers also have discovered the aluminum bottles offer a canvas for endless decorating possibilities, according to CCL’s Martin.
Introducing the new bottles into PBC’s operations involved fitting the filling line with special change parts for the diameter of the bottle as well as adding an x-ray fill checker that can see through aluminum. Although the new bottles resulted in added costs to the brewery, the packaging has created benefits for not only the company but also for brewery workers, according to Martin.
“The benefits include a greatly reduced scrap rate since the bottles will not break as they are handled throughout the process. A special smaller case pack also was created without cardboard partitions because the bottles will not break during transport,” or on the bottling line, which employees appreciate, Martin adds.
Package draws attention
So far, the launch of the aluminum bottle line has been a success beyond the Pittsburgh Brewing Co.’s expectations, according to Joe Piccirilli, Pittsburgh Brewing’s vice chairman.  
Before introducing the packaging, PBC’s target market was male consumers from 35 to 55 years old. The new packaging is credited with attracting a new, younger category of consumers without an expensive marketing campaign.
“For us to be in that category [of younger consumers] against our competitors would take hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing,” Piccirilli says. “The media attention [was the biggest surprise of the launch], not only in the United States but also abroad.”
The packaging innovation news appeared in the media in countries such as Brazil, Bangkok, Germany and Canada. Close to 19 million American viewers saw the bottle on major network television as well, according to Piccirilli. Additionally, as many as 900 major news publications across the country covered the new package.
Iron City aluminum bottle basics
Bottle type:
Impact extruded aluminum. Crown finish, short neck and pry-off crown. All materials are recyclable.
Height: 7.68 inches
Diameter: 2.32 inches
Weight: 1.72 ounces (empty); 15.34 ounces (filled)
Dry offset printing process. Brushed aluminum finish with three colors and gloss overvarnish.
Available in 24-pack cases, or single, 12-ounce bottles at select bars and restaurants.