Fresh As ?
Three U.S. Craft Beers In Cans Reviewed:
New Belgium - Ranger India Pale Ale 6.5%
Flying Dog - Snake Dog IPA 7.1%
Oskar Blues Brewery - Dale's Pale Ale 6.5%
"Our original fear was that people would think that it (craft beer in a can) was a gimmick. We knew it wasn't but how do we convince them? We needed to put the beer in front of them and ... get them to try it." - Dale Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues Brewery
January 24th 1935 is a landmark day in beer history.
On that day the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger's Finest Beer and Krueger's Cream Ale to it's customers in Richmond, Virginia, the first time beer in cans had been produced and sold. The concept caught on very quickly and other breweries soon saw the potential of canning their own beer. In fact by the end of 1935 more than 200 million cans of beer had been made and sold in the US alone. In the UK the Felinfoel Brewery near Llanelli in Wales, was also quick to see the advantages with a nine ounce can of it's India Pale Ale being produced in December 1935.
Canning food itself goes back to 1806 when Frenchman Nicolas Appert first exhibited this method of preservation in order to win a 12,000 franc prize offered by the French military.The main advantages of canned beer initially, aside of increased longevity, were that the consumer did not have to pay a deposit on the bottle, and retailers found them easier to stack and therefore display.
Moving forward in time beer in cans, particularly in the UK, has suffered a bit of a bad press. I am old enough to remeber my Father and Uncles opening the huge drum of a flat, malty caramel beer that was Watneys Party Seven at family parties in the 1970s. Couple that with the image of the old drunk in the park supping from his can of Tennant's Super and the 'tinny' flavour experienced when drinking poor quality beer direct from the can, the curse of the summer barbecue when you've forgotten to bring your own and the glassware has gone AWOL, you can see why it isn't particularly viewed with affection.
I was very much a sceptic when it came to buying and tasting 'craft beer in a can' but having tasted, and reviewed such beers as Brookly Brewery's Summer Ale, Butternuts Beer and Ale's Moo Thunder Stout and Maui Brewing Company's La Perouse White and Coconut Porter, I am most definitely now a convert.
Late last year my good friend and fellow beery blogger Matt Curtis came back from visiting his Father in Fort Collins, Colorado (which I urge you to read about here if you haven't) with two of the three cans I'm drinking here (the Ranger and the Dale's) as he had been converted long before I had even considered drinking beer in tinned form ever again. These are not yet available in the UK, however with the current 'beer boom' we are experiencing I hope it won't be too long before they are. Incidentally the Flying Dog was picked up at Utobeer in Borough Market.
The advantages of canned beer to todays beer geek/connoisseur/afficionado/enthusiast or whatever you want to call yourself, is that it keeps the beer beautifully contained in it's own light and air free environment. Add to that its lightness and robust superiority to bottles, and that aluminium is easier to recycle than glass then we could be seeing more and more tins of your favourite tipple in the near future. The biggest downside is the initial cost involved in setting up a canning facility, but if this can be overcome then perhaps we'll all be drinking brewery-fresh 'craft' beer as a matter of course within a few years.
Let's crack on and get drinking.
New Belgium Brewing Company - Ranger India Pale Ale 6.5%
Opened in 1991 following founder Jeff Lebesch's desire to take his home bewing passion to the next level, New Belgium Brewing Company is possibly most well known for its Fat Tire beer and associated Tour de Fat cycle event. Situated in northeast Fort Collins, it's limited release experimental 'Lips Of Faith' series of beers are much sought-after.
Ranger IPA was first brewed in February 2010 and has an abundance of Cascade,Chinook and Simcoe hops, with Cascade added again at the dry-hopping stage. With a bitterness of 70 IBUs the brewery recommends pairing it with goats cheese, grilled peaches and honey-glazed grilled chicken or chipotle chocolate-dipped waffles. I will be having it on its own however.
Pouring a dark amber with a big fluffy white head, a wave of honeyed vanilla cream overlayed with pine and grapefruit hits you full in the nose. Over the tongue I was really expecting a sharp hop bitterness but this is far more subtle, and rather clever. Sure there's an initial sharp hit of bitter pine but this mellows quickly into some light honey-comb, possibly milk-chocolate covered but only for an instant. This flows into some fruity caramel with maybe some watermelon before back comes that pine and grapefruit that I expected to be totally overwhelming, drying to an apple-peel and grape finish before, wait for it ... here come that tongue-sucking bitter pine. This is a really delicious and delicate beer in many ways, for despite its undeniable bitter hoppiness there's some wonderful nuances that set it apart from the usual palate-wrecking hop monsters. Like I said, clever.
Flying Dog Brewery - Snake Dog India Pale Ale 7.1%
Aspen was founded as a mining camp during the 'Colorado Silver Boom' of the 1880s but is now more famous as a ski resort and the home of the world renowned Aspen Music Festival and School. The author and Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson settled there, working out of a hotel for a time, and in 1990 it is where George Stranahan set up his Flying Dog Brewpub. With British artist and Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman designing the beer labels, Flying Dog has become one of the most recognised breweries outside of the United States. Obviously having a fantastic label on your can or bottle doesn't guarantee fantastic beer on the inside, but Flying Dog consistently deliver on all fronts.
The Snake Dog IPA is available year round and brewed with Warrior and Columbus hops to impart a smooth, earthy citrus bitterness. I'm sure many of you have had this beer in its bottled form many times, however finding it in the can gave me a little touch of giddiness, and I was anxious to see if sealing this fine liquid in a capsule of aluminium made an already great beer even better.
A little lively out of the can, it pours a beautiful sunset gold with a half-fingers-worth of nicely carbonated beige head. Sharp citric orange and grapefruit aromas, flushed with mango and a hint of lemon balm waft invitingly from the glass. An initial light tingling on the tongue gives way to an explosion of grapefruit, pine and lemon bitterness with a flash of white pepper, clashing then combining with a honey caramel earthiness, giving your palate a grating, stinging, purging workout leaving it raw and alive. Some gorgeously watery watermelon that comes washing through soothing and caressing, licking at those hop-inflicted wounds leaving a finish of burnt sugar and charred pineapple that leaves you licking your lips, kidding your brain into thinking that you've just had a wonderful dessert.
This really is good. Really good. It hides its 7.1% abv alcohol by making you enjoy the flavoursome twists and turns that you forget its there. Only after finishing the glass and basking in the afterglow of this heady hop-hit of a beer do you really appreciate its strength. The question that you need me to answer though is: Does this beer benefit from being canned? I'd have to answer yes, yes, oh yes indeed!
Oskar Blues Brewery - Dale's Pale Ale 6.5%
Oskar Blues Bar and Grill opened in Lyons, Colorado, often referred to as the 'Gateway to the Rockies' in 1997 serving Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort foods alongside its own beer. Dale Katechis, owner, founder and another keen home brewer turned who turned his hobby into his job, recalls that when he first had the idea of putting the beer he first brewed whilst still at college, Dale's Pale Ale, into cans in 2002 that "It was too far-fetched for anyone to believe, even in our industry ... some people laughed it off". Now, more than ten years later, they can't make enough of the stuff and it continues to sell out every summer.
Using Northern Brewer hops for bittering, Cascade and Columbus for flavour, and the addition of Centennial at the dr-hopping stage for aroma, Dale's Pale Ale is un-arguably the company's flagship beer. A 'hearty' (their word, not mine) 6.5% abv and 65 IBUs it includes 'hefty' amounts of European malts, 'squeezing a big brew into a little can ... because' they feel 'fun in the great outdoors calls for a great beer'. I'll be drinking it indoors today but I have to agree with the sentiment.
Pouring the colour of "Golden Shred" marmalade, and a little cloudy too, this beer seems to radiate an amber glow from beneath its thin off-white head. Hints of orange blossom and lemon peel wax and wane, fighting for supremacy with a grassy soapiness in the aroma before pine and grapefruit assert themselves, putting an end to such frivolity. Rolling across the tongue, carpeting it with a thick orange marmalade this beer then springs and dances all over the palate sprinkly a fine dust of malted-milk biscuit crumbs in a random and delightful way. Pine, bitter pink grapefruit and lemon peel cut through with a stinging dryness, grabbing, clawing and scraping all the way to the back of the throat and beyond leaving behind a lemon and honey cough drop finish, filling and coating the whole mouth like a viscous fog.
This is an extraordinarily good beer, fresh, alive and with enough vibrancy to give any confirmed hop-head an enormous grin from ear to ear. At times playful and at others palate-wreckingly serious this beer is a sheer delight, and although it was the first 'craft beer' to be put into tins it has set an exceedingly high standard showing beyond a doubt that canned beer is most definitely a way of preserving both freshness and flavour that a bottle just can't quite match.
These are three exceptional cans of beer, and maybe I'm just saying this because I'm a hop-craving lip-smacking bitterness junkie but I genuinely believe that I've had these beers as near to perfection as I could reasonably expect to get on this side of the Atlantic. I stated earlier in this post that I am already a can convert and while I could lament the absence of these particular beers here in the UK that isn't really the point of this post. I wanted to take three beers, all of which have been recommended to me at one point or another by beery friends and acquaintances whose opinions I value, and see if I could taste a degree of 'freshness' that might have been retained due to this particualr method of packaging. The 'freshness' I'm referring to means, to me specifically, a degree of subtlety, nuance and balance to the flavours, being able to pick out hints and explore depths of taste and character that may not be so apparent in a beer that is not so well preserved. These three exhibit all of the qualities that I was hoping to find in my personal 'quest for fresh', and I would encourage you to give good canned beer a go if you haven't already done so.