Can it, Already: Why Canned Craft Beer is so Cool

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.


Beer Dabblin’

I know I should be working on my real work for my real job, but discussing this is of far more interest to me at this point in time. Then I’ll get to work, I promise. This weekend, my boyfriend and a couple friends of mine went to the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler, which was definitely a good time and a cluster at the same time: a cluster of a good time. Some highlights:

1. After getting pre-wistbanded (their attempt to handle the lines better than last year which one woman claimed were a mile long) at the Bulldog, we went on a hunt for some pre-beer dabbler eats. Lowertown, if you some of you don’t know, is pretty much only bustling during the week when Securian is in session, if you can even call it bustling. We found a variety of places that were either a) packed or b) crappy. So after walking in circles around Meer’s park, we settled on Barrio, a classy Mexican restaurant, where I insisted on getting a pre-beer dabbler Summit EPA (which, as always, was delicious, and went well with my tostada). It all worked out in the end, and by 4 we decided it was time to check out the festivities.

2. At this point, we saw a line going around the corner of the building where we new the beer dabbler was. Thinking, ‘oh yeah, we got prewristbanded, we’re fine’ we walk straight to entrance around the other side of the building, leaving the line behind us. The lovely man told us ever so politely to keep walking straight and to get into the line. Which line, you ask? THE line. The line that went all the way around the city block, that began a mere twenty feet in front of the man who had directed us to get into the line (Which be believed to be starting around the corner, closer to the entrance). He was wrong. The prewristbanding attempt was a massive failure and we waited in line anyway, got reprimanded by a cop for skipping the line (which I promise didn’t make sense), and still weren’t the last people to get into the beer dabbler. If you’re familiar with the farmer’s market, you can imagine how packed it was. Which was fine, until my feet started to freeze, which is no one’s fault but my own.

3. Ok, so no onto beer talk so you don’t just think I was pissed about the line situation and them overselling the tickets the wholetime (I was, and will no longer be attending any of the Beer Dabbler’s illustrious events): the favorite by far was Harriet’s Coffee Elevator Doppelbock. It was the most delicious stout made with Ethiopian coffee I have ever had (bold statement since I had originally thought it was Half Pint’s Stir Stick Stout, which will still always have a place in my heart and then there’s Surly Coffee Bender). I’m trying to get more information about where I can get more of it, and when I have it, I’ll let you know. Harriet has seriously proven themselves to be a great addition to the Minnesota Beer Scene.

4. A conversation I had with a guy waiting in line for Crispin: for the last three or four beer fest type events Crispin has shared theirspace with Fox Barrel, which definitely confuses people. They assume that that’s a kind of Crispin, which means a) they’re idiots, and b) Crispin isn’t differentiating themselves enough (or maybe Fox Barrel isn’t either). Either way, it’s spurred my deeper interest in ciders, which I will be posting in later blogs. But know that Fox Barrel is different from Crispin. They are not from Minnesota (California) and they only do pear cider. It’s actually pretty good stuff, and ciders in general are on the up and up. So why not try one?

5. I submitted my homebrew (that Mike and I made: a honey ginger IPA) in a homebrew competition for the first time. Yeah, yeah I know it’s something I should’ve done a while ago, considering my history with homebrewing (I mean, I’m not a 55-year-old dude who has been brewing since his 20s. I’ve been brewing for about four years). But I finally did it! I’ll let you know how it goes. I got a $5 gift certificate for Northern Brewer for even submitting my beer (which was a surprise to me) and like not worth that much but it was nice, for my next homebrew supply trip. I did realize, that I hadn’t taken off the old labels off my bottle (it was a reused Magic Hat bottle), so woops, it might be disqualified but they’ll still rate it. Either way, I’ll let you know! I’m excited!

6. I discovered there’s a new Wisconsin brewery that opened in Menomonie called Lucette. At first, the logo confused me, I thought it was some weird architectural black and white POS, then I realized it was a woman, like a mud flap pin-up, which is the same image on their taps. Their website says,“Lucette is hand-crafted by guys and brought to life by the artistry of a woman. Don’t be offended or embarrassed by her voluptuous curves or stunning assets—she isn’t. Lucette is an image of revolution and evolution, much like experience a non-macro beer for the first time. And what’s more, she is created from the finest ingredients by the hands of our own brewers, at our own brewery, and not by some mysterious brewery far away from “home.” In other words, she is not fake, diluted, or overproduced—she is 100% Lucette.” I’m torn, because this is a great way of describing a beer and their mission, and right on par with the market of men loving beers that say something about women (positive or negative, generally in pun form, e.g. Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, which has had its share of issues with feminists across the United States). It’s just so… man. Of course all the brewers are men, and of course this idea of the ‘not fake, diluted or overproduced woman’ is the pin-up with big boobs and a tiny waist. It just confuses me (maybe because they called me out on it from the get-go, telling me not to be offended), and makes me wonder if they’ve even thought this hard about it. Probably haven’t, but who IS Lucette and what does it actually mean?

Ok, so that’s about it. Relatively uneventful underwhelming time at the Beer Dabbler, although I did get some free swag and cheese out of it (there was a huge line, of which I did not partake). I think I’m going to stick to just the St. Paul and Minneapolis Beer Fests from now on.

A Brief Yet Watered-Down ‘Triple-Hops Brewed’ Introduction to Homebrewing: The Basics

There’s been a lot of talk about homebrewing; around the office (if your office is filled with cool Millennials doing projects about Millennials, like mine is), the water cooler (if you have one to go with your pager), among your friends (if they’re cool enough, like mine), in the gchat (that we’re all on all day long anyway, except for Hannah), the text messages (Maybe), all up on your tweeter with the twatterings (ok, just mine), but I bet you’re thinking to yourself, ‘WTF is homebrewing? I can haz confuzzon.’ Here is Liz’s brief yet watered-down introduction like the ‘triple-hops brew’ we know and love (ahem, Miller, get with it, you can’t add one hop leaf three times during the boil and claim it’s triple-hopped), just the basics. We can get into nuance later. I’m here to enhance your life, not confuse it. So here we go.

It’s important to note, that this is meant not necessarily as a guide to start homebrewing for the first time, because if you were, I would direct you to a very different set of reputable resources (which I will do anyway, in future posts/pages) that aren’t speckled with my loving anecdotes and sparkling rhetoric, as much as I know you value them. This post is meant to give you an overview of what homebrewing is and how it can help you understand what breweries do when they brew their beers (although they do it on a much larger scale, duh, while homebrewing is generally done in 5 gallon batches, resulting in approx. 50, 16 oz. beers). A big thanks to Dajana from work for taking these photos during our work homebrewing session this summer that I have included to help you undersand what I’m talking about if you didn’t already know.

1. The recipe, the equipment, the time.

Find a recipe, either on the internet (there are a billion websites), in a book (there are a billion books), from a friend (maybe you don’t have a billion homebrewing friends, but you can make them), from a kit (a pre-made box full of everything you need, all measured out and ready for your use) or from your mind (bold move). Find the equipment you have lying around your house/basement/garage/trunk and clean the shit out of them (if you’re like me and have stuff that you never really cleaned that well from the last time you last-minute brewed). Find the time to brew. Depending on how you go about it, brewing can take 3-6 hours and is best done with a beer in hand. I like to take the easy way out and do the 3-hour path, but it’s totally up to you, and you’d probably be cooler if you took the more challenging route (think ‘The Road Less Traveled’). I will be discussing the 3-hour path here (also known as ‘extract brewing’ but you could also do it with the ‘partial mash brewing’ method).

2. The big-ass brew kettle.

I don’t want to get too detailed, but the Miller version: you boil water in your big-ass brew kettle (3 gallon), and add various things at various points. Like I mentioned in my previous post about the different beer styles and beer basics, the ingredients (water, malted barley/grains (the sugars), hops, yeast) are generally added in that order. The most important part of the process in which you add things is called ‘the boil,’ when the wort (as unfermented beer is called—pronounced like wert rather than wart, if you know what I mean) is at a rolling boil and hops are added. In general, the boil is about an hour, with ‘hop additions’ mostfrequently occurring at the beginning and towards the end (for that respective impact on the flavor of the beer; in the beginning it affects the overall body/flavor of the beer, while at the end, it affects the ‘finish’ of the beer). There are also a wide variety of hops that add different elements to the beer, so it’s not like all beers have hop additions of the same hop at different times, in fact, it’s pretty rare, but again, up to the discretion of the brewer—the hop chef. You’d be interested to know that hops are the only other relative of the marijuana plant species (they’re both cones), which is why sometimes when you’re drinking a really hoppy beer (or smelling straight-up hops as one often does) it reeks of that weed-like skunkiness.

3. The chill, the pitch

When the boil is done, it’s your sole goal to chill that wort as quickly, efficiently, and with as little contamination as possible so that, when mixed with water, the wort is at a temperature in which the particular yeast cells can thrive to make that wort into beer (yeast + sugar = alcoholz + CO2 and other byproducts). Like hops, there are many different kinds of yeasts, all that have a different impact on the beer and are meant for certain styles of beer or more practically, fermentation temperatures*. So you chill (literally) for a while. Sometimes in the snow. When the wert is at a satisfactory temperature, you pour it into the fermenter (preferably a glass carboy, if you’re using plastic, you haven’t lived. You owe it to yourself to get a glass carboy and be an adult about this). You add some water and then you ‘pitch’ the yeast. Pitching the yeast is a fancy way of saying ‘put the yeast in the wort,’ but it sounds cooler to say ‘pitch,’ and then you sound like you’re a) doing something special and b) know what you’re talking about.

4. The wait.

You chill some more (this time in the cool, not cold, way) for several weeks, months, or if you want to go there, years. You let the beer do its fermentation thing. You check it daily to make sure it’s looking good, to watch the movement, and feel the warmth (I kid you not, during fermentation it emits heat which you can feel). Eventually the fast bubbles and movement will stop and that means the primary fermentation is complete. Then you do some stuff (‘move’ the beer between carboys if you want to, add some things, or don’t, check some things out, etc.) and wait a little more.

5. The bottling.

There’s a scientific point at which the beer is supposed to be ready to be bottled (or kegged, if you’re fancy), but I rarely test that (it’s called gravity and you do it with a hydrometer), and I’m ok with that. I just go by time and my gut (i.e. beer belly). Beer’s good like that – so forgiving, and will probably taste great anyway. You do a two-hour long process called bottling that requires the help of at least one other person (if you’re like me, incredibly weak, and can easily coerce friends into helping you, especially since they know they’ll be drinking it later). You add a little bit more sugar to the bottles of beer and cap them. Some of the remaining yeasts eats that sugar to create CO2 bubbles INSIDE the beer. Sometimes beers explode. It’s an inexact science. You wait at least two more weeks, sometimes three, and then you’re ready.

6. The drinking.

Pretty straight forward. Because it’s homebrew (I repeat, ‘inexact science’) there will be a little bit of sediment at the bottom of the beer, which although isn’t harmful, isn’t ideal to fully taste and enjoy your beer. So when you pour your homebrew into a glass (which you should always do; even if you don’t have pint glasses, dear God, pour it into a glass), don’t swish it around in the bottom of the bottle as you pour because that just encourages the sediment to get mixed up in the good stuff and leave at least a half an inch of liquid at the bottom of the bottle to further prevent this from happening. You want to be able to see the unadulterated unpasteurized beer in the clear glass, see the bubbles dancing up the sides, smell the amorous aroma of the beer, and revel in your glory as it tingles your taste buds.

* Ok, here’s the truth: I wrote this post before the previous one titled ‘Ales and Lagers: Best Friends and Lovers, the Yin and the Yang, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ but decided I was getting ahead of myself and need to first introduce you to the basic concept of what makes different beers different from each other.

Here’s to Those Who Wish Us Well…

Hello and welcome to the Beer Spectacles! For some of you, this may be the first beer blog you follow; for others, this may be the millionth. Whatever your fancy, this beer blog aims to have a nice mouth-feel and a smooth finish (beer terminology… you’ll get into it, I promise).  But first, a little about me and my goals. Then you can decide if you want to tap the keg… of knowledge.

Me: A 20-something Midwestern female with a unquenchable thirst for beer and beer knowledge. If you didn’t already know, I grew up overseas, experiencing some sort of bizarro “American” lifestyle. I mean bizarro in the nicest way possible, of course, as this inside-outsider perspective encouraged me upon my repatriation to explore all things American with the avid desire to just fit in and have something cool to talk about that everyone can relate to/learn from (especially, of course, on a weekend night). Sophomore year of college, beer became this exact thing. Sure I was under 21, sure I had no idea that my college’s local liquor store had a very mediocre craft beer selection, but boy did I get into it. That year, I was enrolled in the anthropology department’s methods course on ethnographic interviewing and sad that my lead at the local funeral home didn’t work out, I skulked into the homebrewing supply store across the street, where I met my very attractive, very first ‘informant’ (anthro term for person who talks to you for hours, having great patience, explaining every little thing about their culture or microculture).  It was all downhill from there, becoming obsessed with understanding every nuance of different beer styles and the homebrewing process, wanting so bad to be part of it all. A semester later, Keith (the pseudonym for my informant, another anthropology precaution) gave me a great discount on my first homebrewing set and having moved off campus, I was ready to brew… And brew hard. A billion beers later (ones I brewed, ones my friends brewed—brew crew!, and ones I salivated over at the bar), I’m here. Writing this. Just for you. It was always just for you.

My goals: Are pretty straightforward. I want to share my love, life, and experience with beer with you all. Minnesota’s beer scene is literally exploding right now, and I want to be part of it and I can’t help but be part of it and I want you to be part of it, too. There will be posts about how to start homebrewing, what I’m brewing, where to find good information on brewing/beer/breweries, cool bars to go to (and reviews of cool bars I like to go to, or cool bars that have terrible beer lists), reviews of brewery tours and beers (new and old), discussions about what it means to be a craft beer lover and supporter, what’s in, what’s out, and how to pour well (not a Mike pour). That’s why it’s called the Beer Spectacles. Refine your beer goggles.

So let’s embark on this together. Like the toast my heterosexual lifemate Hannah gives, “Here’s to those who wish us well, and all the rest can go to Hell!” Cheers!