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Why Can?

Recently, the beer community has begun to see more and more of its beers, including certain top-tier selections, find their way into cans vs. bottles.  Why could this be?  Aren’t cans what you find macro selections like Budweiser, or the storied Natty Daddy in?

The most generic beer cans imaginable (via rustycans.com)

The most generic beer cans imaginable (via rustycans.com)

We’re certainly not the first to mention it, but canning beer definitely has its advantages vs. bottling, which include:

  • They recycle more efficiently.
  • They block sunlight and oxygen better than glass, preserving your beer.
  • They’re lightweight to ship, so less weight to carry in/out of places, and less fuel burned to ship.
  • Unbreakable – they’re safer!

Of course, if you’re already a bit of a beer aficionado, you likely already know about some of these advantages afforded by canning.  Unfortunately, canning still has perception issues to overcome in gaining widespread acceptance in the mainstream beer market.  These concerns aren’t entirely unfounded, however – canning hasn’t always been as good for beer as it is today.

Ask those who drank from the cans of old, and you may hear criticisms such as “cans give beer a metallic taste”, and “only cheap beer goes in cans”. These concerns were once true – cans of old were unlined, and given enough time, would oxidize, rust, and leech metallic flavor into whatever (likely miserable) beer was being consumed from them.  Additionally, cans were typically the de-facto distribution method used by the “Big Three”, purveyors of macro lagers in the US.   Fortunately, times have changed.

Modern can designs are polymer-lined – such that the beer never truly comes in contact with the can’s metallic structure. Some may argue that drinking from a can “tastes like metal” or “doesn’t allow the beer to breathe”, but to those points, you shouldn’t be drinking a quality beer straight from a can or bottle anyway, though, we’re not ones to judge if the time and place are right! Sly Fox has sought to fix that themselves though with their new cans – forget punch tabs and cold-blue mountains, when you can go straight-up topless with your beer.

Oskar Blues Cans. More of these, please!

Oskar Blues Cans. More of these, please!

It’s true that there is an initial barrier to entry for canning beer, and this can make it a difficult proposition for small craft breweries just getting their start. Oskar Blues themselves paid $10,000 for their canning rig, which was originally done for laughs. That said, once in place and operational, the benefits are undeniable.

Interestingly enough, though, certain breweries such as Dogfish Head have declined any interest in canning their beers, citing that canning runs counter to the more sophisticated image they’re trying to bring to beer. Anecdotally, I’ve had friends and family look at me with a look of pure bewilderment when I spring for a case of canned Oskar Blues – they’re just not able to comprehend that the stuff contained in these same vessels that hold their Miller Lite could ever be worth the price premium. Through family tastings, however, I’ve strived to change that.

I once took look at one of Sierra Nevada’s canned offerings – which, regrettably wasn’t a great experience. This was most likely not a fault of the container, however, it was probably just a result of mishandling. Another beer blog found that variances in carbonation and pour can arise from canning, but ultimately, it yielded no discernible “metallic” impact on taste.  Russ Beck conducted a similar analysis with a particular focus on high-volume delivery.

So, hopefully, we’ll see more of this in the future – it lowers costs, is more environmentally responsible, and ultimately, that’s a win for both consumers and brewers. Shouldn’t it be about what’s inside, anyway?  What are your experiences with canned beer?

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Written by Garrett Miller

Garrett brings a somewhat different perspective on beer to the table. While always thrilled to try any new, exotic brew that finds itself his way, Garrett finds that he's often quite satisfied with reliable, common craft choices. As such, Garrett is a fan of trying and reviewing these (admittedly less expensive) beers, and using them to introduce the exciting, flavorful world of craft beer to those not-yet-acquainted. Garrett’s favorite styles are IPAs and bourbon stouts, but won’t turn his nose up at anything. Find Garrett Miller on Google Plus

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