House of Cans reveals a unique retail concept
As glass bottles gradually fall out of favour with brewers, one specialist drinks retailer in north London has taken this format shift to heart. House of Cans, a tiny beer bar and off-licence, is pushing a can-only concept that it hopes will set it apart from more traditional craft beer bottle shops.
Simon Brown, House of Cans director and one of its five co-owners, explains the company’s approach by pointing out that cans ensure the product within is fresh; are more recyclable than glass bottles; and are lighter, making them cheaper to transport.
But all this is secondary to the ambience that House of Cans wishes to cultivate. On its website it notes: “While we are passionate about product and presentation, we’re not prudes. We’re absolutely about aesthetic, but we’re alright. We like beer but we’re not bores. You get the picture... We’re enthused by but relaxed around what we do. It’s a vibe.”
Brown says: “We’re really just having some fun. Which isn’t to say we don’t appreciate good product – of course we do. But we’re as interested in having some fun with it and championing the can as a design canvas.”
Beyond simply selling beer, House of Cans brings together brewers and artists to produce limited-edition cans. It produces somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 cans of each collaboration. Some of these are sold in-house while others are produced for third-party events and venues.
“We’ve approached things two ways,” says Brown. “We’ve had beers brewed specifically before but there are also producers that have an existing product they’re happy for us to piggy back on.”
The most recent example of this is a collaboration with Brew By Numbers that saw a small amount of its Yuzu pale ale go into cans designed by Kent-based artist Denver Sorrell.
Previous in-house collaborations have brought together Villages brewery with typographer David Pearson, and Two Tribes brewery with graphic designer Chris Martin. The resulting cans form a striking display that stretches across the entire back wall of the shop, as well as filling some of the fridges below.
“I think it’s sensible that producers in this market want to shift units so we see this as quite a commercial opportunity for them,” says Brown.
The resulting cans and display allow the House of Cans store to serve as a shop window for its design matchmaking services. And while the physical cans are not intended to last long – “once it’s gone, it’s gone,” says Brown – images and descriptions of the collaborations remain on the House of Cans website and blog.
House of Cans has already attracted the attention of a diverse clientele for its design services. In May, as part of London Craft Week, House of Cans brought together Japanese indigo dye brand Buaisou and Ubrew to create a pilsner named Indigo Hands.
In June it teamed up with local charity London Friend and artist Sylvia K to create Love Equals pale ale, brewed by Villages brewery. This was sold as part of 2019’s Pride celebrations.
And in July House of Cans collaborated with artists Olly Fathers and James Rogers to create Boom Drops pale ale, also brewed by Villages. This can, created for The Other Art Fair, has an augmented reality feature that allows drinkers with the relevant app to view animations overlaid on to the can’s design.
House of Cans is squeezed into a former horse stall on Lower Stable Street. The area, just north of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations, was once home to warehouses and marshalling yards. More recently it has seen major redevelopment and been reborn as a shopping and dining district.
Coal Drops Yard, as it is now known, hosts experimental pop-ups run by an eclectic mix of creatives. Its developers describe it as a place to stumble upon something new and to meet with the unexpected.
Brown says that the store, which opened last November, has grown busier week by week as more people discover Coal Drops Yard. “It’s been slower on the uptake than certain retailers would have liked but it’s great for us,” says Brown. “It’s a destination spot.”
On a warm midweek evening the footfall is lively, with people drifting past from the nearby Granary Square and its cooling fountains.
For those who wish to stop in for a beer or two, there are a handful of stools at the counter inside the store and a few more seats at tables outside.
Most of the store’s sales are off-trade, but drinking on site still makes up an important proportion of the company’s revenue. For these customers House of Cans does not serve beer
in a glass. This policy has attracted criticism online from some potential customers. One claimed it was “terrible not to have glasses available” while another felt it was “not conducive to drinking in”.
Brown stands by the decision, however. He says: “If people want they can take [their beers] home and decant and sup them at their leisure and appreciate them, but we’re not taking our business that seriously.
“We love good beer, and you can appreciate good beer in this format.”
The bar does keep a small number of glass tumblers for tastings, however, and these are available on request.
Brown describes his clientele as a mix. ”There are people who come to us because they buzz off the aesthetic. There are people who come to us because, yes, they love beer.”
House of Cans also carries a small range of other drinks – all in cans of course. These include canned wines, canned ciders, canned spirits with mixers, canned soft drinks and even canned water.
Brown says the uptake for House of Cans has been very positive and the company is already considering opening additional sites.