Here begins my campaign for canned craft beer in the UK. The official slogan is currently ‘Cans are not just for baked beans’, but I’m still working on that bit.
In 2002, Oskar Blues started putting their beer into cans; they were the first brewery in the US to see a future for canned beer. Now over 50 are doing the same, including 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley, Maui Brewing Co, New Belgium and Surly ('Beer for a glass, from a can'). 21st Amendment have recently announced their Insurrection Series, which will be ‘a limited edition, four-pack release of a very special beer that rises up in revolt against common notions of what canned beer can be’. They started this series with Monk’s Blood. The beer in these tins are not your mass-market, corn-fed, yellow fizz.
There are significant pros to the argument for drinking canned beer, they are: Cans are lighter and more space-efficient than bottles (378g vs. 592g in a 355ml container); they are roughly the same diameter, but cans are stackable; there are no worries of smashed glass with a can; any light struck issues disappear in a can, so the beer stays fresher; cans now have a thin layer attached to the inside so any worries of it ‘tasting like tin’ disappear; aluminium is eco-friendly and recyclable; cans chill quicker than bottles; you don’t need to put labels on a can; cans suggest that you drink the beer fresh and in most cases fresh is best; and, you will also likely get away with drinking a can of beer in a public place or at work and people will just think it’s one of those loudly coloured soft drinks, if that’s of any interest.
For balance, there are some negative issues: The mentality of drinking beer from a tin is the main one as canned beer is seen as the cheap, mass-market stuff which you open, drain in one hit and then smash the empty tin against your forehead. This is a difficult mentality to overcome. Also, the addition of canning facilities to a brewery is an extra, initial expense alongside (or instead of) a bottling line. And here’s a point I’m unsure amount – we have cask and bottle conditioning, how about can conditioned? I don’t know if it’s possible, so real ale in a can may be a no-go, which some might not like (though real ale is not the be-all and end-all of good beer, of course).
Ultimately it comes down to taste. It’s easy to list reasons why cans are good but if, when that ring is pulled back and the beer is poured out, it doesn’t taste good then the argument is wasted. 21st Amendment’s regular cans are Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and Brew Free or Die IPA. They are great looking cans, bold and colourful. The Watermelon Wheat is literally a can full of fruit, it’s light and quenching, relatively low in alcohol and like sinking your teeth into a juicy piece of melon (just don’t try this if you don’t like watermelon). Brew Free is a fantastic IPA, bready-caramel base with a flood of tropical and citrus fruit and pine - very tasty and neither too-sweet nor over-bitter.
Two of the beers I brought back from California were in cans and I now wish I’d squeezed a few extra in. Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter is 5.7%, comes in a great looking can and is made with hand-toasted coconut. It pours a dark chocolate colour and straight away that coconut comes through, like liquid Bounty. One sip and I was in love. It’s great fun, it’s fresh, it’s different and the mix of fragrant coconut with roasty, chocolatey, dry porter is a complete revelation (the brewer is currently in the UK doing something for the Wetherspoons beer festival... look out for it, you’d be coco-nuts not to). Oskar Blues Ten Fidy is the A-list superstar of canned beer. It’s a 9.5% imperial stout and it pours a gorgeous inky brown with one of those creamy, dark heads that you want to spoon up and eat. The aroma is the intoxicating mix of doughy sweet bread, oatmeal, dark chocolate and berries. It’s richly full bodied, a fresh bread flavour kicks it off which gets darker and darker passing through toast, cream, chocolate and coffee, heading into cocoa-covered roasted berries. It’s as good an imperial stout as I’ve ever had.
I’d like to see canned craft beer in the UK. But I don’t think we are close to that yet. Tins of Hobgoblin and Green King IPA don’t count, I’m afraid, but I think there’s real potential for others. The mentality of drinking canned beer might be the biggest thing holding it back, but times are changing and there are many pros to canning beer - brewing is constantly in evolution, the world is changing, the need for more efficient practices are gaining importance and this is one thing that the beer industry can do. Not all breweries could succeed to begin but there are some who definitely could. Maybe it needs a new brewery to come in with a radical game-plan to try and shake things up a bit... Whatever happens, expect my Can Campaign to be on-going – We CAN do it!
And here’s some proof that 21st Amendment use fresh watermelons... We didn’t break into the brewpub, by the way, that’s Richard from Elizabeth Street Brewery and he was picking up a keg of beer for a party, which I went to. And yes, I did quote Dirty Dancing as this picture was being taken.