Good Beer…in Cans? No Way! UPDATED FEB. 23, 2012

Added some additional breweries to the list of those providing their beer in cans.

It used to be close to impossible to find decent beer in cans. The only real options were certain English ales (e.g. Tetley’s, Old Speckled Hen) in “pub cans” (which contain a “widget” that releases CO2 to simulate pub draught). I’m happy to report this has changed significantly: there are now a number of microbreweries using cans (some exclusively).

I’m sure you’re wondering why would I care if good beer is available in cans. First, on easier backpacks, it’s nice to carry a few beers, but bottles are heavy and I worry about breakage. Second, I occasionally go to this ledgy swimming area in Vermont, and it made me very nervous to have glass bottles around all that rock.

Of course, these breweries aren’t necessarily using cans for these reasons, although Oskar Blues (the groundbreaker here) includes the Leave No Trace “Pack It In, Pack It Out” expression on their cans, so you know who they’re targeting! (For those who don’t wander around the woods, this refers to carrying out any garbage you carry in, leaving the wilderness pristine.)

There are several reasons they’re using cans:
  • Cans are lighter, which reduces fuel use, not just saving money but also reducing carbon emissions. I did a quick calculation and found that a full 12 oz. bottle weighs 557g whereas a full can is 35% lighter at only 363g.
  •  Cans are also easy to recycle.
  •  Light blockage is another crucial quality. Beer is very sensitive to light. That’s why virtually any Heineken (at least outside of the Netherlands) is slightly skunky: they use green bottles. And I’m pretty sure they shove the wedge of lime into Corona to cover the skunkiness, since their bottles are clear.

I asked Chuck Williamson, owner/operator of Butternuts Beer and Ales, why he uses cans, and he offered another good reason: “As a production micro-brewery selling mainly wholesale, it was a tough prospect to compete on the store shelves. Going with the cans meant we could stand out and coupled that with our left of center marketing and labeling.” I would agree with Chuck’s assessment since I have definitely noticed the cans when looking at the array of microbrew offerings.

If you worry about cans leaving trace of metal flavor in the beer (as they used to), don’t! I haven’t detected any difference in taste with these new canned beers. In fact, Oskar Blues notes that cans now come with a water-based coating to completely blocks any exchange of flavor between can and beer.
If you’re looking for good beer in cans, here are the breweries I’ve found so far (with links):
Anderson Valley of Boonville, Cal.
Avery Brewing of Boulder, Colo.
NEW! Baxter Brewing of Lewiston, Maine (review of Stowaway IPA)
Blue Mountain Brewery of Afton, Virg.*
Butternuts of Garrattsville, NY (review of Pork Slap Pale Ale)
Sly Fox Brewery of Phoenixville, Penn.*
New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, Colo. (only Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat)

*Haven’t tried these myself (yet)

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