Could Budweiser have been right all this time?
For years we've been told that beer in cans is mass market stuff that’s ruined by the very cylinder it's stored in. But recently, craft beers in cans have slowly crept into liquor store coolers – baffling beer snobs and armchair brewers alike who grew up thinking bottled beer is better. As more and more brewers realize the benefits of sealing their delicious boozy nectar in the dark confines of an aluminum can, the primacy of the bottle in microbrewing could be at risk.
The first can of beer rolled off the line on January 24, 1935 in Richmond, VA. The concept caught on fairly quickly and by the end of the year, more than 200 million cans had been sold. For the consumer, it was a sweet deal, with no deposit to pay like there was on bottles, at the time. For retailers, canned beer was easier to ship and store and it even took less energy to chill thanks to the conductive properties of the metal cans. Of course, it also changed the brewing landscape. Large national brewing companies were able to crowd out smaller brewers thanks to the economies of scale that cans allowed.
Of course, such a huge shift in the way beer was stored did have consequences. The steel, and later aluminum cans had a habit of leeching trace amounts into the beer and making the brew taste slightly metallic. Some even believed the aluminum could cause Alzheimer's and a variety of other ailments.
Regardless, modern cans are lined with non-reactive materials that protect the beer from any contact with the metal, thus ensuring no contamination. More important, the cans still protect their contents from light and air. Even tinted bottles allow light to hit the precious fluid. That light is the source of what is less than technically known as “skunked” beer. Just as problematic, oxygen can infiltrate past the bottle cap and react with the liquid, adding to the rancid flavors.
As if that wasn't enough, cans can go plenty of places bottles can't. Hordes of parks, sporting events, and other assorted venues ban glass bottles. And since dozens of great breweries are getting wise to the benefits of the lowly can, it's not hard to find satisfaction. Here are just a few of the best:
21st Amendment Bitter American – An aptly named beer for these turbulent times, Bitter American is an American Session Ale with a low alcohol content and seriously bracing hops balanced with a tasty citrus kick. It's clear, refreshing, light and just about perfect to take us into spring time. Plus, who can argue with a beer said to “celebrate unsung, unwitting heroes everywhere” that features space-chimps on the can?
Oskar Blue's Dale's Pale Ale – Named the best pale ale in the country by the New York Times, it's not the simple pale ale you'd expect to guzzle in a hurry. This Colorado brewer has put together an impressively complex brew with a nicely floral hop aroma and a quick hit of orange and citrus up front, followed by a little spice and a pine resin flavor that sounds much worse than it actually is. There's a little butterscotch aftertaste that's quickly washed away by a whole lot of carbonation. Even if you don't agree with the New York Times on anything else, they got this one right. It's definitely a six-pack to crack open and savor early and often.
Maui Brewing CoCoNut PorTer – Proving that not every beer in a can is well suited to post-lawn mowing duties, CoCoNut PorTer is black as a dictator's soul, but far tastier. Protected by its aluminum flak jacket on the long journey from Hawaii, the beer features heavily toasted malt aromas up front that prep you for a bitter chocolate wave backed up by the mellow coconut flavors promised in the name. It delivers on the aroma as well, with potent malts threatening to make this a mouth-puckering beer and the coconut balancing it out. CoCoNut PorTer can be hard to find, but well worth seeking out for a taste of the tropics. Though, to be honest, it does feel decidedly odd to be drinking a dark beer from a can despite all the work Guinness has done on their canned draught.
Surly Brewing Abrasive Ale – One of the Minnesota-based company's few seasonal offerings, Abrasive is a double IPA and isn't afraid of offending anyone's delicate sensibilities. Reeking of pine, dark earth and even a marijuana-like essence, it's obvious that Abrasive Ale is not for everyone as soon as the ring tab is cracked. It's hugely bitter, with that same pine and soil flavor coming through clearly on every swallow. Without the slightly sweet malt notes added, it'd be overbearing, but as brewed it's perfect for hop-fiends. And at 9 percent alcohol by volume, it'll go a long way toward getting through the last of these long winter nights.