Craft beer has slowly begun to embrace cans. Until just a few years ago this was unthinkable. Canned beer represented everything better-beer activists opposed.
It was the small Oskar Blues Brewing in Lyons, Colorado that changed it all when they bought a $10,000 micro-sized canning line from Cask Brewing Systems. Sales have been exploding ever since, and profits increased by more than 100% in 2006.
I recently visited the Sly Fox Brewing brewpub in Phoenixville, PA. In addition to having a couple pubs, Sly Fox packages three of their beers in aluminum cans. I bought a bunch and what I didn’t drink that night with my Phoenixville host Terry Bishop, I brought home with me.
Tonight, I pulled out the last three cans, one of each, to do a little informal tasting all by my lonesome while my lady rests in a hotel in Dubai while in transit to Afghanistan:
Pikeland Pils, 4.9% ABV, 44 IBUs, Original Gravity 11.7 Plato
I’m afraid this tasted just like a canned light lager. I’m sure it tasted better when I first got it almost two months ago. But now it tastes metallic. Maybe the freshness made a difference and there’s more of an effect the longer the beer stays in a can. The best thing would be to do a blind tasting of the same beer, one example from a glass, one from a can, and one from draft.
Dunkel Lager, 5.3% ABV, 21 IBUs, OG 13 Plato
A unique ruby-copper color, shy of a porter but a deeper red than most amber beers. This one struck me and Terry both as the best of the three back when I first tasted them with him. It’s a light, smooth easy-drinking lager without the metal-edged bitterness of the Pils but with just enough body and roundness on the back of the tongue to make it interesting.
Phoenix Pale Ale, 5.1% ABV, 40 IBUs, OG 13 Plato
It’s a perfectly good pale ale. I’d even call it better than average. Moderate hoppy bitterness balanced with a malty backbone. Nothing out of proportion. A medium bodied American style pale ale that doesn’t go out of bounds with the hops.
Shake Your Can and Say Yeah!
Extra points to Sly Fox for listing the alcohol level, bitterness units, and original gravity on each can. The bitterness is nice to know since people have very different preferences. The original gravity seems less important since it’s main implication – alcohol content – is unknown unless they also include the final gravity and since they include the alcohol content anyway, original gravity probably doesn’t mean much to most beer drinkers. It does have some bearing on the overall body of the beer though so for some people it might be nice to know.
In general, sharing factual information about a product says to me that the makers respect their customers and would prefer to inform them rather than insult them with unfounded and ridiculous marketing bullshit like “made from the finest hops” or “guaranteed to get your jimmy thicker.”
Benefits of Beer in a Can
Even though I drank all three of these from a glass, there is something very satisfying about drinking beer straight from a can. I guess it’s just memories of college (okay, high school too) sitting around crushing cans with my feet or between the palms of hands (I never had the guts (stupidity? coordination?) to smash ’em against my forehead). Holding a beer can just feels good.
There are also considerable environmental benefits to using aluminum cans rather than glass bottles. I actually devote a section of my book to this very topic. It turns out that glass, although it has certain aesthetic benefits, is a worse option for the environment, at least in most cases. Glass bottles weigh much more and take up more space, which means they require more fossil fuel to transport. Glass is also much less efficient to recycle.
From the moment they enter the curbside recycling bin, aluminum cans take as little as six weeks to appear back on the shelf as new cans. Glass is much more energy intensive to recycle and takes longer to get through the process. Glass growlers are an important exception – since they can be used over and over again and because they are filled with beer at local brewpubs, which means the beer isn’t traveling far. And there are real problems related to aluminum mining, whereas glass is basically liquid sand. But the benefits of aluminum recycling are so significant that only glass growlers are favorable environmentally.
Another factor in favor of cans is that they can go places bottles can’t. Cans are much less prone to break and they weigh less so it’s easier to take them places like outdoor events, camping, tail-gating, the beach, or wherever.
And the new small-scale canning lines cost a lot less than big glass bottle lines. Low-cost small scale equipment means more local pubs can afford to sell their beers to take out, which means more people are able to support local beers even when they aren’t physically drinking at the brewpub.
Oh yeah, in case the title of this post was confusing, it comes from the Steve Martin movie The Jerk. The protagonist believes that his stalker actually just hates cans because every time the stalker shoots at him Steve is near some cans. Who knows, some craft beer drinkers may actually hate canned beer enough to shoot at those of us who drink them.
But I’m a rebel, so to them I say: Go cans!