Do They Can Beer Because They Can?

8 Jul

Summer weather has encroached on nearly every corner of the country. That means more people doing more things in the outdoors than at any other time of the year.

Embarking on outdoor events and trips often requires careful selection of things to bring. Practicality as well as weight will often determine what makes the cut from clothing, to toiletries, to food and beverage.

When it comes to beer, the destination and accompanying rules will often eliminate the option of beer in glass bottles. A campsite, a parking lot for concert tailgating, picnic groves, a golf course (disc golf, as well), poolside, and the beach are all places that typically frown upon or outright prohibit glass bottles.

Enter canned beer. For those that have not paid close attention in the past several years, something of a canned beer revolution has arisen. No longer an inferior piece of aluminum carrying only the lightest and least flavorful American Light Lagers and Pilsners made by oversized conglomerate brewing and marketing organizations, cans as a packaging vessel are being turned to by craft breweries for a lot of the right reasons.

Five years ago, the number of craft breweries packaging their beers in cans could be counted on a hand or two. Now, according to CraftCans.com, more than 100 craft breweries are putting over 300 canned brands on the market.

Oskar Blues of Colorado is often cited as the first major craft brewer to install a production canning line back in 2002. Other early adopters following in Oskar Blues footsteps included the likes of 21st Amendment, Buckbean, Butternuts, Caldera, Maui, Sly Fox, and Surly. More recently, standout breweries such as Anderson Valley, Avery, Breckenridge, Brooklyn, Lancaster, New Belgium, and SKA have also added canning lines to their production facilities.

With these breweries putting their tasty delights in a can, it’s not just light lagers any more. Forget the stereotype of what kind of beer comes in a can. If you want an IPA in a can, you can choose from Sly Fox Route 113 IPA, Avery IPA, and Caldera IPA.

How about a refreshing wheat beer? Consider Pyramid Haywire or New Belgium Sunshine Wheat.

The strongest beers available in a can? Some heavy-hitters like Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout at 10.5% ABV and 21st Amendment’s Monk’s Blood at 8.3% ABV certainly fit the bill.

But, if you’re looking for good “lawnmower”, session-style beers, there’s likewise no shortage at this end of the flavor and alcohol spectrum. Lancaster’s Kölsch, Surly’s Bitter Brewer, and Brooklyn’s Summer Ale all come in between 4%-5% ABV.

Not only will any of these, and other, craft beers in a can serve as perfect outdoor drinking companions, but they will have a positive impact on the environment as well. Of course, the debate of net environmental impact can be argued from many different angles, but one compelling argument most often made is in the lower weight of a 12 ounce can of beer compared to that of a glass bottle. Less weight translates into less consumption and burning of fossil fuels which should translate into lower shipping costs and net benefit to the environment.

Of course, it does not hurt to recognize that the end result of packaging craft beer in cans for the good reasons listed above is opening up additional revenue streams. Would it be prudent business otherwise?

On top of being convenient for customers and more environmentally-friendly, one other advantage only gets occasional bragging rights, yet may in fact be one of the most important: protecting the quality of the beer.

Considering particularly that this discussion is focused primarily on how to transport and enjoy great beer during outdoor events, the issue of sun and skunked beer is bound to come up. It is important to note that a beer can only be skunked when the liquid is exposed to ultraviolet light, which creates a skunk-like aroma in the beer after reacting with isomerized alpha acids found in hops.

Therefore, any glass bottle of beer that can pass light — particularly clear and green bottles, but brown bottles are not immune — is subject to becoming “skunked” if exposed to outdoor light for too long a period of time.

A can? Can’t happen.

Cans, therefore, become great packaging choices for outdoor events. For example, during an outdoor Philly Beer Week event at The Four Seasons hotel, all Sly Fox beer except for one was being poured from cans. The Route 113 IPA, Phoenix Pale Ale, and Royal Weisse cans lined the serving tables in the courtyard.

In addition to not passing light and potentially subjecting the beer to skunking, a can’s precious liquid does not run the risk of oxidation in the way a bottle, pardon the expression, can. A can’s seal is airtight. No matter the seal between a bottle cap and the glass neck, the potential exists for an ever-so-slight seepage of oxygen into the beer that can result in the oxidation of the beer which often leaves behind a cardboard-like taste to ruin the pleasure of drinking a great beer.

After considering all of the evidence presented — not to mention that a 12 ounce can is basically a small version of a 15.5 gallon keg, and who doesn’t like kegged beer on tap? — the proof is in the taste. Chances are great that when comparing a canned craft beer next to a bottled one, the difference will be imperceptible. But, judge for yourself.

Still skeptical about great craft beer in a can?

Source: The Washington Times,  Bryan Kolesar

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