Beer Blog

Can the Can?

As I walked round Leeds International Beer Festival it was apparent, but not surprising, that there were more keg beers than cask ales. What caught my attention more, was the number of UK brewers present who were selling canned beers. Several had some of their beers available solely in cans. This and my recent trip to Northern Monk’s launch of their canned range led me to investigate this canned phenomenon further.

I assumed that canned beer in the UK appeared sometime in the 1960’s, I can remember Long Life being popular in the late sixties, early seventies. I was wrong on this one because the first canned beer in the UK was produced by Welsh brewers Fellinfoel in 1931, in a weirdly shaped can with a conical top and a crown cap, thanks BBC website.

If you’re of a certain age you will have drank gallons of canned beer with that metallic taste of the tin itself. I’m not certain what age you’d need to be because I’m not sure when the metallic taste disappeared. In some areas it hasn’t disappeared and I recently had a bottled ale from a well known German supermarket discounter that was horribly metallic. In fact, I had a pint of Camden Pale Ale yesterday from the keg, in my new local and that had a metallic whiff and a stannic smack on the first taste, so it’s not just a canned thing is it? Tasted pretty good after that though.

So, canned ale is nothing new and we’ve had loads of canned beers in the UK for years, lagers, ciders, various ales and stouts in row upon row and box upon box on our supermarket shelves. Something must be happening though because both the The Guardian  and The Telegraph have recently published a list of their top canned beers to try. If the chattering classes are reading about this then there must be something occurring? A few years ago I would have said there’s no such thing as a top ten of canned beer, they’re all just crap beers in convenient packages. Not so any more because craft brewers are now canning their brews. Why? Brian Dickson at Northern Monk told me it keeps the beer fresh and there’s no chance of oxidisation through a dodgy bottle top. The can keeps the light out too, again keeping the beer as fresh as when it went into the can. There’s also the recyclability of the packaging which cools down quicker than a bottle and is more efficient stacked.

Personally, I prefer a can to a bottle at home. You can stack them up easier in the fridge, put them on their sides, upside down, stuff them on top of the bacon and even if they fall out they won’t instantly smash. I think the beer is better too. I’m no beer snob, I drink Bud while watching sport on TV, I like it, it’s cold refreshing and fizzy and alcoholic. It’s much better out of the can than a bottle.

Everyone I spoke to at Leeds International Beer Festival seemed to think that the sales of canned craft style beers will go through the roof next year. Northern Monk released their range recently. Magic Rock said that their range canned range will be available pretty soon. Roosters Tom told me they invested in their own canning line a while ago and out of five beers on their bar, three were solely available in cans, including my favourite, Baby Faced Assasin. Others with cans on the bar were: Fullers, Fourpure and Fivepoints. If the likes of these breweries have gone down the canned route then it’s clear that it’s neither a novelty or a one off. Other notables are Brewdog, Camden. And I’ve got to mention Beavertown, who have cornered the market in the visual stakes and taken full advantage of the 360 degree graphic impact a can provides with their comic book space age designs. Designs which wouldn’t look half as good on bottle labels. I guess, in some way we are following the US as brewers like Flying Dog, Founders and the like have been available for a good while in cans. There’s similarities both in terms of beer styles and the overall package with a lot of the beers coming on stream in cans.

There’s even Indie Beer Can, a canned beer competition organised by the Can Makers and SIBA, although it’s aims are obviously self promotion. Adams won the first one with Ghost followed by Thwaites 13 Guns. I’ve not seen the Adnams one but I’ve tried 13 Guns and it’s only alright, nothing special from the husk of the Lancashire macro brewer who pretend to have a craft micro brewery in Marstons back yard.

Quality wise, I don’t perceive any difference and believe a good canned beer is preferable to the same beer in a bottle. Although I prefer a draught beer in a proper glass, you don’t usually get draught beer at home, on a picnic, at a barbecue, when camping or at other casual outdoor events. I think it’s the way forward for these modern styles of beer and over the next six months I’m predicting a massive rise in the number of quality beers becoming available in these convenient, efficient, little packages.

2 replies »

  1. I entirely accept the points about the practicality and environmental benefits of cans. But there’s a huge image problem to overcome in the UK, and quite a lot of it still comes across as “cocking a snook at CAMRA”. Also there is still a strong prejudice against selling single cans, whereas single bottles are ideal for the adventurous drinker. And why do the crafties insist on putting beers of modest strength into soft drink-sized cans?

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    • Curmudgeon,

      I’m not sure on the sizing aspect, personally I prefer a 440ml can, although a lot of bottled beers are still in the 330ml size. On the number of cans, I’m seeing a lot of canned craft beers on sale singly now, even in places like Morrison’s.

      Personally I don’t think anyone is ‘cocking a snook’ at CAMRA, an organisation I support and am a member of. On the other hand, I do think there are factions within CAMRA who like to maintain a decent sized snook, around several issues, specifically so that others can cock it.

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