By: Vince Pecoraro

 

The second of a three-part series about canning: its origins and emergence into the world of craft brewing.

 

Craft beer fans were surprised when Oskar Blue Brewery out of Longmont, Colorado started independently canning their Dale’s Pale Ale in 2002. Before they started, canning was seen as something only done by multi-million dollar breweries while small canning operations were nearly non-existent. It was especially odd when considering that the brewery had only ever sold their beer in kegs; the first craft brewery to can their beer had skipped right over bottling.

Other craft beers had been canned in the past, like Chief Oshkosh Red Lager and Pete’s Wicked Summer Brew, but both were canned on contracts from large companies and were edged out by competition from major breweries.

Today, there are around 500 craft breweries canning over 1900 varieties of beer.

Its popularity aside, the topic of canning has been one of fierce contention among craft fans: some argue that cans take out some of the beer’s flavor and leave a plastic taste, while others say that they wouldn’t store their beer any other way.

Samuel Adams started canning their famous Boston Lager in 2013. Its founder, Jim Koch, said that it was a decision he held off on until canning technology progressed.

“The debate over bottles vs. cans has been a sticking point for brewers in the craft beer community for years,” Koch said when the canning line was introduced. “In the past, I had my doubts about putting Sam Adams in a can because I wasn’t convinced that Boston Lager would taste as good as it does from a bottle. But cans have changed. And I believe we’ve designed a can that provides a slight but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beer can.”

The Sam Can, as it’s called, is specially designed with a flared lip and wider top, supposedly enhancing the flavor by allowing for more airflow. The reasoning behind it being that your taste is influenced by what you smell, and it’s difficult for the hop aromas to escape through a smaller lip. As cool as it is, it’s a problem that would be quickly remedied by doing what drinkers are supposed to do with most canned beer: pour it in a glass.

Some breweries do take the opposite approach, insisting that craft fans drink directly from the can and actively discourage the use of a glass.

The Alchemist’s double IPA, Heady Topper, is a prime example. An elusive brew found only in a few northeastern states, Heady Topper is considered one of the country’s best beers with ratings of “100” on both BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. Its head brewer, John Kimmich, explains why the beer tastes better from the can in a message on the packaging:

“Why do I recommend that you drink it from the can? Quite simply, to enjoy a delightful, hop experience. The act of pouring it in a glass smells nice, but it releases the essential hop aromas that we have worked so hard to retain.”

Still, some major craft breweries have resisted the movement toward canning. One of the largest proponents against them being Tony Magee, the owner of Lagunitas Brewing Company, who said on Twitter back in 2012 that the company would be the last in the nation to start using cans, saying it was not as environmentally-friendly as widely believed. He cited concerns with bauxite mining, which is known to strip the earth and is done almost exclusively in developing countries.

While the argument rages on, canning has become increasingly popular among small breweries. Canning lines have become affordable for smaller brew houses and mobile canneries have sprung up around the country, making it possible for even the smallest of breweries to can their own beer.

Coming up next … Looking Out for the Little Guy