We’re in the midst of a revolution. A beer-can revolution. For generations of Americans beer meant low-quality lager, a fizzy yellow water that looked, smelled and tasted more like an industrial byproduct than the world’s favorite beverage. And for decades, manufacturers put the worst beer in cans, packaged it in bulk and sold it to the lowest common denominator.
But in 2002 something interesting happened. Domestic craft brewing–or microbrewing as it used to be called–began to grow at an astounding rate, offering many Americans their first taste of a diverse and high-quality alternative to industrial lagers. That’s also the year Oskar Blues, the Colorado brewery founded by Dale Katechis, started canning Dale’s Pale Ale and surprised beer drinkers with the realization that canned beer can taste good.
The Beer Chicks’ Christina Perozzi, co-author of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer remembers thinking Oskar Blues was “crazy.” ”I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “But then I tasted (Dale’s Pale Ale), and it was awesome. I thought it was cool that people were doing great beer in cans and debunking the idea that beer in cans was crap.”
Today an increasing number of craft brewers are working to reverse prejudice against canned beer. Why use cans at all? Cans are a better package for some beers. Hoppy beers are great in cans, because the airtight seal and blocking of UV rays keeps the hops tasting fresh. So does that mean we should only buy canned beer and leave bottles behind?
More craft brewers are canning beer
According to CraftCans.com, 131 out of nearly 2,000 craft brewers in the United States are canning their beer. That number is up from 81 at the end of 2010. While the canning numbers are increasing, they still represent a small percentage. That’s largely because most craft breweries can’t afford to can their beer. It’s also because many brewers remain wary of old stereotypes.
Meg Gill, the craft-beer wunderkind who began her career at Oskar Blues three years ago, thinks that’s about the change thanks to the influence of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, the second-largest craft brewery in the nation. In February, Sierra Nevada announced plans to release its flagship Pale Ale in cans by the end of 2011.
“They’re a pretty conservative company,” Gill says. “So the fact that they’re doing it, and coming out with it in such an aggressive way–that’s big.
“This isn’t a trendy thing for craft beer. Craft brewers always want to do what’s best for the beer, and affordable canning lines are finally allowing them to do it.”
Randy Mosher, beer expert and author of Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, thinks the recent canning trend marks a historic moment for craft beer and signals a positive change.
“It’s indicative of the point where we’ve come as a movement that we can embrace a technology that’s synonymous with every reason why we started this whole thing,” Mosher says. “Twenty-five years ago no one would have done it because it would have been tantamount to saying we were the same as Big Beer. But now we’re coming out and saying ‘A package is a package. Let’s put some great beer in a can, and let people enjoy it.’ It’s a sign we’re maturing.”
The Beer Chicks’ Perozzi says the bottle/can divide is disappearing. “Maui CocoNut Porter is an awesome, awesome beer,” she says. “I love that beer, and it just happens to be in a can.”
5 great canned craft beers
In the end, the experts agree that it’s all about the beer. The package is just what gets it to you. I asked the experts quoted in this article—and some who were not—for their favorite canned craft beers. These are the ones that were suggested most often. If you want to get into canned craft beers, this would be a good place to start.
1. Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
The beer that started it all
2. Maui CocoNut Porter
A smooth, light, and deliciously dark ale
3. Oskar Blues Old Chub
A hard-hitting scotch ale
4. Avery India Pale Ale
A highly drinkable IPA
5. Surly Furious
A favorite among hop heads that’s only sold in Minnesota