You’ve seen it in liquor stores and are probably familiar with it in your home, especially if you love Surly: canned beer. Why is it so cool? Why are so many more craft brewers going in this direction versus the more traditional pry-off top bottles (please, screw off tops imply cheap and, ew… macrobrewed beer.)? Just the other day I was at Pat’s Tap on 35th and Nicollet and they had a whole blurb about how they love cans and why they’re better than bottles (Side Note: Pat’s Tap is a great place, you should definitely check it out. They have great cheese curds, although not top five. Ok, maybe top five, but definitely NOT top three, which for the record are 1) Groveland Tap (bonus of great beer selection), 2) Bulldog Uptown (also bonus of great beer selection and, obviously, locale), 3) State Fair (non-bonus of expensive limited beer selection)).
Anyway, not the point. The point is that beer in the can is cool and there have been many recent articles/blogs about why exactly that is. Well, that article is about science, saying they are equal. Don’t bother reading it, the only real sentence that matters is that science says: “I would expect that the difference between amber glass and aluminum cans is minimal as far as photodegradation is concerned.” Photodegradation is the light impacting the overall taste/flavor/carbonation of the beer, which is the main reason why people have said amber bottles are the way to go. In case you didn’t know, clear glass lets in all the light, so that definitely impacts the beer (“photodegradation”), resulting in what some people refer to as “skunked beer,” which mostly refers to the lack of carbonation in the beer and just being generally gross. Either way, you know that beer that comes in a clear glass bottle is a) not a respectable beer, because b) the proprietors couldn’t be bothered to put it in an amber glass, so chances are it sucks. Just. Saying. Oh and in case your wondering, green bottles are ok, but amber ones are better. Clear ones are the worst. Cans? They’re just as good as amber bottles. WHAT?
So then you think back to the last time you ordered a PBR at the bar and you’re all like “Hmm… but what about that aluminum taste? I don’t like that. I just bought the PBR because it was cheap and it adds to my cool image.” And good question; the point is that beer, like wine, is not meant to be drunk in the receptacle it came in, be it can, bottle, or bag (ahem, don’t pretend you don’t drink Franzia, the world’s most popular wine). That’s why pouring it into a glass (I’m not going to be a dick and say the ‘right’ glass; a glass is good enough) is really important. This is something that has to happen even if your beer came in the fanciest amberiest glass bottle of all time. The point is that yes, beer from a can will have a slightly more aluminum taste if you’re putting your slobbery beer-thirsty mouth against the stupid aluminum can to drink (chug?) it. So just pour it in a glass and quit your bitching. Then again if you’re getting a PBR at the CC Club or something, they might laugh at you when you order a tallboy of PBR and ask for a glass (I mean you paid $2 for it, it’s not worth their time or money to clean a glass for you). But you were the idiot that ordered that PBR in the first place. Just drink it out of the can and save yourself the trouble.
So again, you ask, why are cans so cool and why am I cool for drinking beer from them? Why do I see my favorite beers available in cans? Why do good breweries insist on canning their beer rather than bottling (besides the aforementioned fact that they let in just as little light as traditional amber bottles)? Surly’s slogan is “Beer for a glass, from a can,” not only saying that cans are cool (like their beer) but that it’s meant for a glass, like a real beer that you would find in a bottle, that you would also pour in a glass (HAVE I MENTIONED THAT YOU SHOULD POUR YOUR BEER IN GLASS?). Also, cans and canning is just cheaper, simple as that. And from a design standpoint, they also allow a slightly larger canvas from which to express the essence of the beer, which is important in a world where there are more and more breweries and differentiators are not only harder to establish but harder to show to the consumer. I mean, not all breweries can have special glass bottles made for their beer like they do with Vodkas; plus it goes against general beer conventions.
But I think it’s more than that. Ultimately, cans are a throwback to the age when the can was really the only option (and people were drinking it straight out of the can by the case-load) and craft beers are reclaiming this identity in a postmodern way (yeah that’s right, I went there. I’ll reel it back in, don’t worry); a can no longer means an average macrobrew. Craft beer now has all the versatility of the can but you get to drink the beer you love the way you used to drink Bud Light or maybe Milwaukee’s Best in college (chug, smash, toss). I say the reclamation of the can is postmodern because it not only references the past use of cans and the current changing face of beer, but it was cans that changed how beer was brewed/distributed in the United States in the first place that made it monolithic post-Prohibition, and here they are, doing it again, but diversifying. Reclaiming. Reforming. Recanning. And people are loving it.
So, is canning an attempt to reach the market of macrobrew drinkers by tricking them into buying cans, grabbing it instead of a case of Miller High Life? Does it make them feel better about buying a craft beer they once thought was too hoity-toity or didn’t even realize was a beer until it came out in cans? Probably not. But maybe? I’d say it’s more for beer geeks/snobs who want to take craft beer with them camping and not deal with bottles (because bottles don’t crush like cans, duh, and they can shatter or in some cases, explode). The question is if you as a beer snob invited some of your beer snob friends over and offered them some beer snob beer, would they feel wronged if you brought out some beer snob cans and poured them into glasses? I think they would be skeptical at first, then you would have some sort of abbreviated version of this blog post about whether or not it’s a big deal that their Fat Tire is now canned.
Then there’s the fact that there aren’t really THAT many breweries that can their beers. It’s still an anomaly. Check out this neat website that talks about all craft brews in cans and announces the new ones as they come out. It’s kind of exciting to think about the future of craft beers as they convert more breweries and people to using and drinking canned beer. But what does that mean for homebrewers? Are they going to have to start buying cases of fresh amber bottles from their homebrew supply store instead of reusing bottles? I mean, I doubt that all beer sales will be in cans for a while, or at all, so that’s good, but then what’s the point? I know that not all homebrewers = beer snobs, but the overlap is pretty big, so then does that kind of hinder canned craft beer sales? Wasn’t homebrewer reuse part of the reason Summit went to pry-offs instead of twist offs (besides the fact it makes them seem more legitimate, oh, and THEY WOULD TEAR THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR HAND WHEN YOU TRIED TO TWIST THEM OFF AND YOU HAD TO USE A BOTTLE OPENER ANYWAY)? But it could’ve also been that beer in pry-off bottles stays fresher longer than beer in twist-offs, but would you believe me if I told you it stays EVEN fresher for longer in cans? Because it does.
And then there’s the social phenomenon around the tallboy. How cool is the tallboy, you ask? Really cool. Just ask your local hipster. Go to your local liquor store. I don’t know how excited you were when you saw that Grain Belt now comes in cases of tallboys (yes, 24 16oz cans with that great checkered Grain Belt pattern), but I was really excited. This introduced a whole new level of beer appreciation into my and my friends’ lives, a level that we now refer to as the ‘Pounder Pack.’ I would be remiss not to mention that the term itself came from the official name on the case of PBR tallboys that we once (ok, several times and counting) purchased for a drinking game/activity known as PowerKart (but more on that another day), that we now use to refer to all cases of tallboys.
Needless to say, not only are cans cool but so are tallboys and the Pounder Pack (as was the packaging company that startedto encourage breweries to start doing it this way—recognizing, creating or propagating the trend, it’s hard to say). But for now, it seems that the Pounder Pack concept is just for beers that come from breweries that have the capacity to can at this scale (as much as I love Grain Belt it is by no means a craft beer, this I recognize), so it just adds to the popularity of the can in general. Then again, the twelve-pack of 21st Amendment comes in a fridge-friendly box and is always a solid brew (I had their Back in Black Black IPA the other day, and it was delicious). They can ALL of their beers and are proud of it. There’s something sexy about a craft beer in a well-designed can, and they do it well.
More cans, I say. Bring on the Pounder Packs of craft beer.