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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/14/2011

Beer: What's wrong with canned brews?

By Greg Kitsock
CAN in HAND_opt.jpg The new DC Brau brewery is featuring a canned beer. (DC Brau)
“Please settle an old argument: cans or bottles?” asked the questioner during last Wednesday’s Free Range live online food chat. He or she prefers bottles, and added that if cans were the only option, the beer would always then be poured into a glass.

I, too, always pour beer into a glass no matter its source. That gives the CO2 a chance to dissipate and releases the aromatics. But I have no qualms about the quality of beer coming from a can. Perhaps the biggest advantage of aluminum is that it’s totally opaque, shielding beer from its arch-nemesis, light, which can break down hop compounds to unleash an unpleasant, skunky aroma.

In this year’s Beer Madness (have you voted yet?), three of our entries come from a can: Caldera Ashland Amber, a hoppy amber ale from Caldera Brewing Co. in Ashland, Ore.; Ten Fidy, an inky black imperial stout from Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colo.; and Monk’s Blood, a Belgian-style strong ale from the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, aged on oak with cinnamon, vanilla and dried figs.

Which one of them advanced to the second round?

You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out, but none of the members of our tasting panel complained about a metallic taste (the biggest cliche concerning canned beer) or guessed the source of these three beers.

Cans are popular among startup breweries like the city’s own DC Brau, which has stockpiled 170,000 cylinders marked The Citizen Pale Ale in anticipation of its first packaged brew. But established craft breweries are also looking at the advantages of aluminum.

Next month, Starr Hill Brewing Co. in Crozet, Va., will release two of its brands in cans: Northern Lights, a hoppy IPA; and Festie, a soft, malty amber lager in the Marzen/Oktoberfest style (the latter promoted from fall seasonal to year-round beer). Official release date is April 1, but brewery president Mark Thompson believes the cans won’t reach the northern Virginia market until around April 22.

Appropriately, that’s Earth Day. Cans are easier on the environment, says Matt Riggs, Starr Hill’s operations manager: “They’re a lot more sustainable. It takes less energy to recycle aluminum than glass.”

Magic Hat Brewing Co. in South Burlington, Vt., will debut its apricot-tinged pale ale #9 in 12-ounce cans on a limited basis this summer. Cans create more “drinking occasions,” says Ryan Dailey, Magic Hat brand manager. “Cans are perfect for outdoor concerts, music festivals and other venues where bottles are typically not permitted.”

The sell sheet that Dailey forwarded me says 12-packs of the gaudy orange cans will be available pretty much along the whole East Coast from Vermont to Florida, with the curious exception of the DMV. An oversight perhaps? The brewery did not respond to queries.

Perhaps the most interesting convert to canning is Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, a cutting-edge brewery known for its experimentation with imperial-strength beers, barrel-aging and fermentation with wild yeasts. Brewery president Adam Avery says he briefly considered canning his “brutally bitter” duganA double IPA, but has opted instead for four lighter, year-round mainstays: White Rascal (a Belgian-style wit), Ellie’s Brown Ale, India Pale Ale and Joe’s Premium American Pilsner.

The latter is a new release and comes in a can only. It’s a fairly assertive pils with a lemon-and-pepper spiciness from German Hersbrucker hops. A fairly tame 4.7 alcohol by volume, it’s what Adam Avery calls an “extreme session beer” -- a full-flavored brew that you can quaff in quantity. “We can’t drink like we did when we were 25,” laments Avery. By the way, that’s his grandfather Joe Keith (“he taught me how to drink”) on the can.

Six-packs of Avery cans are fastened with a Parktech plastic holder that Avery says is completely recyclable. It covers the entire lid of the can, preventing dust and gunk from settling there and keeping the container sanitary to drink from. Maybe now I don’t have to be afraid of getting caught without a glass.

By Greg Kitsock  | March 14, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags:  Beer Madness, Greg Kitsock, beer  
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