By Justine Sterling, Food & Wine
Considered for years to be a déclassé mark of mass production, canned beer is gaining popularity with many craft brewers. Especially handy for summer, cans are not only easier to pack, stack and transport, but they also preserve beer better than bottles.
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In 2002, Dale Katechis was one of the first indie brewers to choose cans over bottles for his Colorado-based Oskar Blues. "Initially the thought was extremely funny," says Katechis. "We were brewing multidimensional, fully flavored craft beers that had a cult following. We were your typical beer-geek craft brewers that shunned the can as this cheap vessel for flavorless beer." After being approached by a canning company and testing the packaging, however, Katechis got over the stereotype quickly. "It was more draught-like than anything out there," he remembers. "Add to that the portability of the can, the all-American feel, the recyclability--it's an all-around better package."
A decade later and there are nearly 200 craft breweries using cans. One of the most recent additions to the roster is Brooklyn's Sixpoint. Brewer Shane Welch started canning the brand's four core labels (Sweet Action, The Crisp, Righteous Ale and Bengali Tiger) last May, and already sold out of the company's new seasonal release, a Bavarian-style beer called Apollo Wheat. "It was supposed to last all summer," Welch says. "Whatever you see on the shelf [in stores] is what there is. Once that's gone, there will be no more inventory to back that up."
While Sixpoint's experience proves there's a market for good canned beer, negative connotations persist. One lingering concern is that the aluminum gives off a metallic taste. Both Welch and Katechis dismiss this stereotype for their beers--and any other quality cans. "The can got a bad rep for this metallic perception because there were some bad beers being put in cans that had a metallic, off flavor," Katechis explains. "Which is a by-product of poor fermentation."
Welch never doubted expanding into cans. "It seemed odd that craft beer wasn't in cans," Welch says. "People think that if you have a fancy bottle with fancy presentation, that it's better. But the reality is that all you did is you put more money and resources into the packaging, and that defeats the purpose of craft beer. For craft beer, the quality of the liquid is supposed to be paramount."
CANNED SUMMER BEER GUIDE
Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale
After releasing a canned version of signature Brooklyn Lager in 2001, Brooklyn Brewery took 10 years to unveil a second offering. Last year light blue cans of Summer Ale hit shelves across the country, and they're now back and available through July. The style is modeled after a British "luncheon ale," considered refreshing and not filling.
Cisco Summer of Lager
This year Nantucket's Cisco joined the canning ranks with Indie IPA and Summer of Lager, a Bavarian-style lager made in October and aged for release in the summer. Known for funky, artistic labels, the beers often follow suit in terms of taste, and all are a bit quirky. The vibrantly citrusy seasonal lager has a smooth, malty start but a lightly bitter finish.
Flying Dog Underdog Atlantic Lager
The Maryland brewery's first canned beer--which debuted in April--will be available year-round, but the citrusy lager is an appropriate choice for summer. Aside from superior solar protection and easy portability, cans are a better and bigger canvas for the works of Ralph Steadman, the legendary illustrator of Hunter S. Thompson's works, who started designing labels for Flying Dog in 1996.
Blue Point Summer Ale
Blue Point released its first canned beers this April. In the mix is the New York brewery's Summer Ale, available until July. A good dose of wheat malt added to the barley malt leads to a lightly tart and bright brew. The can depicts the beer's ideal quaffing locale: a calm, sunny beach.
Anderson Valley Brewing Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema
When Anderson Valley first started producing beers in 1987, it was at the forefront of the American craft brewing movement. But it wasn't until 2009 that the Northern California brewery began canning. The summer lager is, as the name suggests, creamy with a touch of sweetness.