Monday, May 18, 2009

Yes, They Can*

Craft beer in cans, once unheard of, is something we're seeing more of these days. Colorado's Oskar Blues Cajun Grill and Brewery began canning their stuff in 2002; today they are generally credited as the first major entrant in the craft-beer-in-a-can movement.

And it's a bandwagon that's had more than a few breweries hop on board. Some new operations dove into canning from the get-go – Heiner Brau of Louisiana and Texas' Southern Star among them. But the trend hasn't been limited to startups and little guys. New Belgium Brewing Company, by at least one account the nation's 3rd-largest crafter brewer and one of the 10 biggest overall, rolled out a canned version of its flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale about a year ago. More recently, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewer has started offering Sunshine Wheat in cans as well.

Today, dozens of craft breweries in the U.S. and Canada have gone the aluminum route. The advantages, for consumers, brewers, distributors, recyclers and everyone else, are many. I won't rehash them here; Lew Bryson already did a fine job of that.

Pictured above is a very tasty canned craft brew, this one from Caldera Brewing Company in Ashland, Ore. The Beaver State, of course, is home to more than its share of great breweries, and so it bears noting that Caldera became, in 2005, the first Oregon craft brewer to can its beer. Curious how it's done? Check out this neat little video:

Beer afficionados, generally, have come around to the notion that great beer doesn't have to come from bottles. The Oskar Blues offerings, from Pale Ale to Pils to Imperial Stout, are all well-regarded. Southern Star's Pine Belt Pale is a delightfully hoppy affair, and comes in 16-ounce tallboys to boot! And New Belgium, certainly, is no stranger to critical or commercial validation.

While the popularity of canned craft beer is growing here in the U.S., the concept is still regarded as something of a novelty, and a fairly rare one at that. Contrast that with what you find in Europe, where some very major – and downright world-class – brews have been available in cans for years. The Belgians are particularly fond of this, canning everything from Pilsners to Tripels to Lambics. How about Rodenbach in a can? Hoegaarden? You get the idea.

Meanwhile, in Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell cans some of their fine lager and even exports some of it to the U.S., I'm told – a major improvement over the skunk-inviting green bottles PU otherwise sends our way.

So is canned American craft brew a mere fad or a revolution in the making? This much we know: the benefits of cans are very real, but for craft brewers, stupendous cost savings are not currently among those benefits. As with all processes, efficiency should improve in time. Will beer consumers' preferences keep pace?

* With apologies to Oskar Blues and everyone else who's already used this pun.


michael Reinhardt said...

I had an Imperial Stout in a can that was very good. People often think of beer in a can like wine without a cork...very suspicious, but it can be great

Brad said...

Would that be Oskar Blues' Ten Fidy? I've had it and it's great.

Your cork analogy is apt – it's nontraditional and people think it's "cheap" but in fact the benefits are real.

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