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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
July 4 is coming, and it is time for cold beer by the grill. Canned beer is likely to conjure up an image of a burly guy sitting around in a dirty T-shirt swilling some suds, finishing with a burp and crushing the can on his forehead. While this undoubtedly does occur, some quality-conscious craft brewers today are putting very good product into aluminum cans.
Cans have their advantages. Canned beer is about 35 percent lighter than bottled, which greatly reduces transportation costs. Cans are portable, making them desirable for hikers, rafters and outdoors enthusiasts. With minimal chance of breakage, they are a safer alternative for beaches and hot tubs. Cans are easily recyclable, and they chill down faster than bottles. Recycled cans generate 95 percent less pollution and require 96 percent less production energy than those made from scratch.
The ultraviolet component of light reacts with the hops in beer, leading to “skunky” flavors and aromas. Brown bottles provide some protection for beer, but green and clear bottles provide none. Opaque cans provide 100 percent protection from light.
In 1929, Anheuser-Busch and Pabst began to experiment with canned beer. The challenge was to prevent the beer from reacting with the aluminum, which produces an unpleasant, metallic taste. In 1934, Union Carbide trademarked a can-lining product called “Vinylite,” which revolutionized the canning industry. Today, all cans that contain food or beverage are coated on the inside. Unfortunately, the liner has been shown to contain bisphenol-A, aka BPA, which has been linked to various health issues. There is some debate as to whether there is enough BPA in the finished product to warrant health concerns. Another concern is the environmental effects of the bauxite mining process and aluminum production. If all cans were recycled, this worry would greatly diminish.
In 2002, Dale Katechis, owner of the Oskar Blues Grill and brewpub in Lyons, Colo. (population 1,400), decided on a whim to can his delicious pale ale. The cans proved popular with people engaging in outdoor activities, and Dale’s Pale Ale soon won Top American Pale Ale from The New York Times and World’s Best Canned Beers from Details magazine. Oskar Blues earned acclaim for packaging all of its beers in cans, paving the way for more than 75 craft brewers that can their product today.
The Huffington Post assembled a panel of 25 tasters to evaluate Budweiser, Heineken, Sapporo and Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra Pale ale in a blind tasting of bottled versus canned. With the exception of Budweiser, the tasters preferred the taste of the canned product.
I do recommend pouring the beer from the can into your favorite glass or mug. So don’t be afraid of good beer in cans. Just don’t crush the can against your forehead.
Gordon’s picks for canned beer
*Prices are approximate and subject to variation
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils
Here is a light, refreshing brew that is not too radical for a regular beer drinker. The color is light yellow and a bit hazy, indicating that some residual yeast has been left. The brew has a nice light head, and aromas of orange peel and citrus emanate from the glass. On the palate, the brew delivers a rich burst of malt and hop flavor for an instant, evaporating into a clean finish. 5.3 percent alcohol by volume. $9.50/Six pack
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
This is the brew that started the canned craft brew revolution, and a taste will reveal why. The beer has a deep amber color and a thick, creamy head. Aromas of citrus, evergreen, cedar and pine bough give way to a rich palate with toasty malt flavors accentuated with a strong backbone of resiny hops. It comes in a patriotic red, white and silver can you can enjoy on July 4. Try it with a grilled cheeseburger. 6.5 percent ABV $9.50/Six pack
Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Hop Ottin IPA
In 2010, new owner Trey White said that the brewery’s business was up 25 percent, so he celebrated by launching a line of cans. This brew sports a golden amber color with a bit of haze and an intoxicating spicy nose. The flavor is bracing with caramel flavors counterbalanced with a drying, bitter finish. 7 percent ABV $10.50/Six pack
Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s India Pale Ale
Owner Dale Katechis has ratcheted things up a notch with this one. The brew has a deep amber color and a dense, tan-colored head. Lemon and pine aromas lead to a bold palate of rich malty goodness balanced by strong hop bitterness. This brew would do well with Chesapeake seasoned crabs or shrimp etouffee . 8.0 percent ABV $12.80/Four pack of 16 oz cans.
Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA
Craft brewers are offering up lots of Imperial styles these days, and this is a good example. The term is borrowed from Imperial Stout and generally means high alcohol. Brewer Dave Chicura uses two row barley malt, dark Munich and rye malts in this brew hopped to 100 bitterness units using only Summit hops. It displays a deep golden color and spicy hop aromas, delivering a citrus blast on the palate but is not overly bitter. The brew leaves trails of “Belgian Lace” on the inside of your glass. Serve with mussels steamed with garlic butter. 10 percent ABV $15.50/Four pack of 12 oz cans.
Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale
This rich, malty, robust style originated in the cold, blustery climate of Scotland. Oskar Blues uses substantial amounts of dark malts with a touch of beechwood smoked malt to achieve a dark cocoa color. The creamy, tan head gives way to aromas of caramel, nutmeg and chocolate. The palate features flavors of treacle and butterscotch, but isn’t really sweet, finishing with a kiss of smoke. Serve with dessert such as creme brulee. 8 percent ABV $9.50/Six pack
Gordon Kendall’s column on wine and spirits runs monthly in Extra.
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