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Beer Town: Beer in cans — an unlikely craft brew success story

Canned beer might have celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this year, but its outlook is young and adventurous not old and grumpy.

The iconic American product has undergone a series of changes since it first appeared in 1935, not long after the end of Prohibition.

Physically, cans that required an opener gave way to pull tabs in the 1960s and stay tabs in the 1970s. Along the way, can linings were steadily improved to remove the tinny taste and lock in freshness and flavor.

Culturally, what was once a working-class symbol of Joe Six-Pack became a hip sign for middle-class youth, as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life tall boys were turned into a retro accessory.
beer_custom
More recently, cans have created a revolution in the craft brewing business — something that seemed crazy in 2002, when Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colo., released Dale’s Pale Ale.

At first, Oskar Blues founder and owner Dale Katechis claimed putting his hoppy namesake beer in aluminum was a joke. Now the company proudly markets its flagship as “America’s first canned craft beer” and touts its eco-friendly packaging.

In 2002, the bittersweet, amber-colored brew was higher in alcohol and bigger in flavor than any other canned beer on the market. And Dale’s went on to win a number of brewing awards, even topping the New York Times tasting panel’s 2005 sampling of 24 American pale ales. Up against 23 bottled pale ales, it was a feat akin to the 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” when California wines bested French wines in a legendary blind tasting.

Numbers tell another big story. While overall beer sales have been steadily declining, American craft beer sales were up 7.2 percent in 2009. More surprising, between 2003 to 2008, canned craft beer sales grew by 28.7 percent per year, according to the Brewers Association trade group.
watermelon_beer
Nico Freccia, founder of 21st Amendment Brewery, a successful San Francisco brewpub, joined the canned beer movement in 2005 — first with the distinctive Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and soon after with the popular Brew Free or Die IPA.

“We thought the Watermelon was not only a unique beer that no one else was doing but also the perfect beer to put in a can,” Freccia said recently. “It just fit with summer outdoor activities where glass is less convenient or not allowed at all. But we felt we had to balance it with something else so that people wouldn’t think of us as ‘the fruit beer guys.’

“The IPA was a natural because it was the most popular year-round beer we sold at the pub and nobody was doing a beer like that in a can at the time.”

Since 2005, the number of U.S. craft breweries offering canned beer has grown from a handful to over 50 in 2009 and some 70 in 2010, including the likes of Harpoon and New Belgium.

“I hear it will surpass 100 by the end of the year” Freccia said. “We believe firmly that all major craft breweries in America will offer some of their products in cans five years from now. It’s just such a no-brainer.”

More canned craft beers to look for this summer.

Butternuts Heinnieweisse, Butternuts Beer and Ale  — An American craft brew take on German wheat beer with a refreshing fizzy-tart presence

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues Brewery — The lightest, least hopped-up Oskar Blues offering, brewed in the pilsner lager style with German malt and hops.

21st Amendment Back in Black, 21st Amendment Brewery — A hoppy black IPA that will make its canned debut later in July.

What’s your favorite canned beer?

22 comments Add your comment

Covert Hops

July 8th, 2010
7:55 am

gaweatherboy

July 8th, 2010
4:31 pm

Bob, what a timely piece. I was just in Colorado and saw the New Belgium line of beers in cans, even at Costco. I often look for canned beer when attending those summer pool parties. Any chance we will see Fat Tire or Ranger in cans in the ATL anytime soon?

Rusty Diamond

July 9th, 2010
4:10 pm

Probably OB Gubna or Gordon. Outside of Atlanta, Surly Brewing’s Furious in a striking red 16oz can. I actually prefer the can to the draft version.

Bob

July 10th, 2010
12:33 pm

I asked the New Belgium rep about cans a while back, and was told not yet. But I’ll bet it won’t be long.

Hophead

July 11th, 2010
4:10 pm

New Belgium has been in cans out west for a couple years now. But would love to see some locals in cans – Sweetwater 420 would be perfect.

Cans are a a ton more versatile and the whole myth about taste is not true. Besides after 3-4 high gravity beers, you don’t even notice anyway.

Canned Beerman

July 11th, 2010
5:22 pm

I heart Dale’s Pale Ale!

Elliot F

July 11th, 2010
5:28 pm

Oskar Blues Gordon.

Rob Vinson

July 11th, 2010
6:06 pm

I like the Gordon and the Gubna…

TravelingBrewer

July 11th, 2010
6:34 pm

Ska Brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, and Maui Brewing’s Coconut Porter and Big Swell IPA are three I’d welcome to GA with open arms.

Nathan

July 11th, 2010
6:57 pm

Strongly agree with Covert. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy is one of my top five stouts, and on any given day, it’s my favorite.

drunk!

July 11th, 2010
7:11 pm

heck yeah, any of the maui brewing company would be da *bomb* ! but seriously, all craft brew should be in cans. and given that craft brew has been in cans since at least 2002 (8 years ago) this isn’t really a “breaking news story”. Scratch that, all wine should be in boxes and all beer (craft or not) should be in cans. cheaper to ship, easier to recycle.

Bacchus

July 11th, 2010
7:16 pm

Craft beer in cans is an oxymoron. Only lager tastes good from a can, and only ice cold.

ben

July 11th, 2010
9:37 pm

dale’s pale ale is awesome. a great beer.

FM Fats

July 11th, 2010
9:49 pm

Bob, I believe it’s “Brew Free Or Die IPA”. I had a Porkslap in a can and wasn’t impressed, but the 21st Amendment beers from Cold Spring and the Oskar Blues from Boulder are just plain fine. Especially when poured into a glass.

MrLiberty

July 11th, 2010
10:22 pm

Sacreligious. No other word for it.

Big Lee in Conyers

July 11th, 2010
10:28 pm

Let me know when craft kegs come out

kent

July 12th, 2010
6:37 am

Butternuts’ Pork Slap IPA is AWESOME!

btownsend

July 12th, 2010
10:01 am

FM: It is Brew Free. See Beer Pick below.

Big Lee: Ha-ha!

Vince

July 13th, 2010
7:31 pm

Fat Tire in a can IS coming to Atlanta soon. At least, that was posted by New Belgium on their FB site about a month ago,

Eric

July 14th, 2010
12:38 pm

Fat Tire in a can…great…more ways for New Belgium Brewery to take up cooler space that could be filled with GOOD beer. OB has this one all figured out. I have to agree with post #1 up there…Ten Fiddy is the best beer I’ve had from the can.

max

July 14th, 2010
12:51 pm

long live canned beer. it is the only way to fly. that being said, i would still pour a canned IPA or similar into a glass (or cup if outside), just as we do a bottle, to let the puppies breathe.

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