SierraNevada's big green tall boys on the shelves of your local bottle shop. Maybe you've been searching for some of that delicious GoldenRoad and only been able to find cans. No longer is the “Silver Bullet” for tasteless macro brews and soda pop--its popularity with the craft brewing community is growing everyday.
Much like the controversial “natural cork vs synthetic” argument in the wine industry, canning has been on the table of “flavor and tackiness” for some time now. What are the arguments against canning and do they have any validity or are they simply “old husbands tales”? I decided to do some research and find out for myself.
|c.2012 M. Mioduszewski.|
When I visited Oskar Blues Brewing out in Colorado they walked me through the canning process explaining how they ensure quality in flavor from the fermenting barrel to the can. Much as with bottling, they fill the cans using a counter-flow CO2 displacement filler that pre-charges the cans with CO2 and then pours the beer in to push the CO2 out the top, leaving a healthy foam head. Using a CO2 knife they cut the head level to the top of the can and float the can top on it before crimping it down. Unlike a bottle cap that is shaped more like a dome leaving room for air, the can tops are flat leaving no room between the carefully cured top and the foamy head. By keeping the oxygen out they are keeping the beer fresher longer by effectively preventing any oxidation.
As far as taste goes, canning seems to be the best option for keeping all the good flavors in, and all the bad flavors out of beer. Also, since oxygen is more limited in canning than in bottling, the chances of your beer becoming oxidized is decreased considerably. The other most obvious point to note is that aluminum is impenetrable by sunlight--keeping those pesky UV rays out of the beer. I think it's safe to say that canning is good for the beer, and metal being an infinitely recyclable product it's good for the earth too.
But wait there's more! I've heard many a beer snob say “...but it looks tacky to drink out of a can!” Don't worry I addressed this issue as well.
I consulted the co-founder of one of the original can-only breweries in San Francisco: 21stAmendment's Shaun O'Sullivan, who complains “So many times I end up talking more about the packaging than about the beer itself.” When they first started production it seemed to them that canning being environmentally sound and beer-safe was a no-brainer, but also that it was perfect for people with an active lifestyle as well. “I want to go sailing or hiking, not hauling a bunch of bottles with me everywhere I go” says O'Sullivan, who points out the portability of cans before and after the beer has been consumed. He also stresses that unless you're out and about on an adventure, please kindly pour your Monk's Blood into the appropriate glassware because “a can is just a small keg, not always a drinking vessel” and we all love beer from kegs!