Thursday, March 28, 2013

If a Bottle Can, a Can Can, and Other Can-Related Puns

Change is brewing (See? Beer puns in the opening sentence. When I promise, I deliver).

The bottle has held an iron grip on the craft phenomenon for as long as it has existed, and it's not particularly difficult to discern why: cans were (or are, based on the perceptions of many, including my readers, but we'll get to that in a bit) relegated to second-class vessel, reserved for cheap swill and garbage beer with no place but disappointing frat parties, as though that isn't redundant.

And yet for many more, it's simply the only way to consume beer, though it's unlikely that this market has much interest in craft brew. To this day, preparations for my Christmas Eves are reliably marked with picking up a few packs of Coors Lite for one uncle, and Miller Lite for the other, as though "The Big Three" are the only beers that exist.

Mmmm Generic Beer Goodness 

The quality of these beers (or rather, the lack thereof), is largely regardless of their container, of course, but for those decorated beer snobs out there (I love you all, by the way), the bottle is best.

And this perception is sort of compounded by history, not unrelated to those three canned tyrants. Indeed, the first canned beers were considered novel. They stacked neatly in the fridge, were light to carry - both noted benefits for the demographic that was doing most of the shopping at the time (that is to say, women). Prohibition, naturally, devastated beer consumption and quality, and World War II limited cans as the metal was needed elsewhere, but soon after the popularity took off, especially as the desire for consistent, reliable and "truly American" brands like Coca-Cola found a place in the culture. Canned beer settled in comfortably among this mentality, especially as companies such as Miller were injecting perceptively-female concepts such as light beer with a dose of testosterone, which lead to the Lite phenomenon that would become perilously synonymous with canned beer.

But the noble bottle, steadfast as its prevalence may be, is finding its throne, well, not necessarily challenged - maybe aggressively poked at? - as breweries are adding cans to their lineups.

Let's take a look, for example, at Maui Brewing, a small craft brew on the island of Maui, Hawaii that peddles its wares, including its Bikini Blonde and Coconut Porter exclusively in cans. The brewery defends the can from a purely environmental perspective, keeping the prosperity of their beloved island first and foremost in their minds. Cans, as they astutely observe "don't break like glass bottles," thereby protecting the plethora of beaches and the tourists that peruse them.

Googling "Bikini Blonde" actually, mysteriously, returned much different results. Image from Maui Brewing. 

But the benefits of cans don't dissipate as we travel to the mainland; regardless of how many beaches we're surrounded by, canned beer does offer a host of benefits. For me, the most lucrative aspect is the opaque nature of a can. Hold up a beer can in front of a light. Can you see through it? If so, congratulations on being the most useless member of the X-Men ever. If not, you see a pretty obvious benefit of canned beer - light can't get in. With glass, the best case scenario (brown bottles) can only keep UV damage at bay for so long, with other colors (green and clear) offering considerably less, and leading a beer to its skunky demise far sooner than one would hope for. Canned beer will last far longer than its bottled counterparts.

Then of course there's a slew of other relatively small but still notable perks to canned beer: it chills faster, it requires no bottle opener, it is easily recyclable (and requires less materials - no cardboard six pack carrier) and they're lighter and easier to transport (you know, for the drinker on the go). And that crazy thought that beer instills a metallic taste into beer? Well, it's kinda bull, unless you're licking the can (I know you're out there) - we perfected the beer lining awhile ago. A few breweries are embracing the can, either giving you the option of of picking up a canned or bottle six pack of their popular beers (including Avery, Kona, and Ballast Point), while others do cans exclusively, such as Oskar Blues (a favorite brewery of mine, by the way), 21st Amendment and the aforementioned Maui.

Basically, in the can versus bottle debate, it's sort of a moot point. Pour a fresh beer from a can or a bottle, and it's pretty likely that you're not going to be tasting a huge difference (unless, apparently, it's Budweiser, where "64 percent of participants correctly identified the canned Budweiser," according to Huffington Post, and only "17 percent...preferred it", but are we really surprised?)

Still, it bears noting this equality is contingent on the fact that you're doing what you're supposed to and pouring the beer in a glass. If you're at a party without glasses (consider new friends) or are camping, or are just lazy, then the complaints of that aluminum smell and taste are reasonably valid. And, if you need further validation, bottles do indeed come with a few perks of their own: while cans chill faster, bottles stay cold longer. And my favorite point is the perceived elegance of cans, or really the lack thereof; a six pack of cans may be nice for a casual visit to a friend's for the game, but there's something truly beautiful and special about a tall, corked bottle of beer (can you imagine a 750 ml can of Chimay)? Either way, the variety is nice to have.

Of course, we could always try to go back to the "best of both worlds," the cone top can. Image from Beer Can Pro.
But while we're talking about cans...

Caldera Ashland Amber
Ashland, Oregon
6 Pack Cans, 5.6% ABV
Poured into pint glass

They say one of the perks of modern beer cans is that they appeal to the "outdoorsy" types, who are just cool enough to be picky about what they drink as they careen down a river, mountain, or active avalanche. Caldera, with the advice to "GO FISHING... GO BIKING... GO CANS..." may be right up their alley. It also happens to be a pretty solid beer in its own right.

The head is bubbly and very sweet, with a touch of roast. Maybe it's all that outdoorsy "why in the hell are you sitting at a computer" talk that damn label was parading around, but I was reminded of toasted marshmallows. The beer itself keeps the sweetness reserved, but is wonderfully smooth, very drinkable, but very much full of flavor. I detect, somewhat strangely, a touch of buttery flavors that I don't actually mind at all (but it is a bit strange, especially since "buttery" is usually a telltale sign that something went amiss getting that beer to you, especially with the draft lines, but that's obviously not the case here). It has a nice malty richness that is uplifted by subtle hopping, and you could easily put away a few of these very quickly. And, by the way, it is completely devoid of any metallic flavors and the desire to smash it against my forehead.

But then again, I've only had one. So far.

Next time you're at the your favorite craft brew store, give a craft six pack of cans a try. You might be surprised.

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