Excuse me for confusing beer and Krautrock, but the beer world is embracing the can to an extent not seen since the heyday of the German rock band Can. There was a time when at least the perception of any right-drinking beer lover was that the can was an indicator of an inferior product. Filtered and pasteurised, tainted by the metal.
In the 70s, cult favourites Can, progenitors of so-called Krautrock, whose album titles I borrowed for my headline, seemed to me and my little brother, the height of freaky rock. We were a little too young to know, perhaps. We were also a little too young for beer. Not too young, however, to notice that beer culture, like music culture was changing. Beer in a can, on the other hand, was normal.
From our viewpoint, now, in the actual future, the 70s look retro hip. Everybody drank their beer from dimpled pint glasses and my dad had a hipster moustache. Even in bleak, three-day week Britain, brewers thought cans were so good they put seven pints in them and called it a party. Bottles seemed as old hat as flat caps. Are times changing?
Get up and have a Party Seven
Beer in cans had looked like the future since 30s America. Then in the 70s, CAMRA came along and said “What are we drinking?” It was a rhetorical question. The British beer-drinking world was split into “lager” versus “beer”, keg versus cask, and cans versus bottles. And for good reason. Beer in cans was awful. Said my dad.
In the case of the Watney’s Party Seven, if you didn’t have a Sparklets C02-powered attachment, getting the beer out of the can required a cold steel chisel and an iron will. And when you finally did gain entry, the beer tasted as much of the container as it did of beer. Some maintain this was a blessing. It’s a miracle that beer in cans caught on at all.
Bang on a can
As Can, the band, faded from the rock music scene, beer can technology improved; at least in terms of getting the beer out of the can and into your glass (or mouth). But many a self-respecting beer lover would only choose a can as a last resort where bottles weren’t convenient; like at a gig or on the train. Good beer had to be better in bottles, right?
Now, cans are in. Not (just) in an ironic Pabst Blue Ribbon sense, but because a lot of people are saying, actually, cans are better for the beer. It’s become a craft beer thing. I first saw it a few years ago with Colorado darlings Oskar Blues. It felt almost radical drinking a great-tasting beer like Old Chub Scotch Ale from a can.
We are told if we can get past the glass bottle snob thing, we’ll see the benefits. The can coating doesn’t taint the taste, light that would degrade the hops – even in brown bottles eventually, is completely excluded. Beer is fresher, with less of the old enemy oxygen. Cans are lighter, so transporting them is more green. And you can be inventive with the packaging art.
You can call me Al
Should we buy the arguments? Could the plastic inner-coating be harmful to health? Is the canning line technology good enough to properly exclude the O2? How green is it to produce cans, really? Virgin aluminium is hugely energy-costly. Can you can-condition?
One thing’s for sure, there is some nifty can art around. Look at Beavertown, from north-east London, where the increased art real-estate of the can brilliantly shows off Nick Dwyer’s psychedelic/sci-fi designs.
Despite the questions, there has been a shift in trust. Beer that would only have been bottled before is now in cans: Belgians Rodenbach Grand Cru (Flemish red ale) and St. Feuillien Saison in cans. Over 500 craft beer breweries in the US are named on craftcans.com. Cans served at the fine-dining table.
We’re yet to see a Party Seven of BrewDog Punk IPA, but you can get 5-litre mini casks of beers like London Pride and Wadworth, mimicking the cask-conditioned style. Five litres is barely a decent head under nine pints, never mind seven.
Where does it go from here? Can the can can the bottle? Perhaps not completely, but stranger things have happened. Flat caps are no longer old hat.
Some UK breweries favouring cans:
Beavertown, Fourpure, Roosters
Watch out too for cans from: Wild Beer Co., Dark Star
Buy beer in cans from these online UK shops:
AlesByMail mixed-brewery-case cans (Contents vary: Camden Town, BrewDog…)