Yes Pack (copy)

Somehow we missed National Beer Can Appreciation Day.

Yes, there’s such a thing on the calendar—January 24, look it up. And while you’re looking, see if there’s a congressional citation or a presidential address on the matter. Well, other than Kennedy’s famous “the Schlitz has been passed to a new generation” speech.

The beer can holiday lives in the shadows of other, more celebrated days. National Beer Day, for example, which takes place April 7 and is preceded by New Beer’s Eve. Or National Martini Day, National Margarita Day, National Galliano Day…

No, National Galliano Day doesn’t really exist. But there’s a National Harvey Wallbanger Day.

There’s a theme here. Maybe two, if you begin to realize that legislators appear to spend far too much time pushing alcohol-related holidays through committee for a floor vote. And that we’d rather celebrate the drink than the vessel it comes in.

Yet that vessel is rather necessary. And for many years, the lowly beer can was snubbed as something worthy only of those barley-flavored soft drinks from St. Louis, Milwaukee or Golden, Colorado. Those who brew craft beers—as well as those who prefer to drink craft beers—heaped scorn on the aluminum container.

Oh, how things have changed.

“”Everyone’s on a can craze,” says Marco Herrera, brewmaster for Carmel Craft Brewing Company.

The Brewers Association—how I want to attend one of their conventions—reports that the use of cans in the craft beer segment has been edging up the entire decade, accounting for something like 20 percent of the category’s growth during the span from 2011 to 2014 alone. Now about 18 percent of craft beers ship in aluminum. And there’s a coffee table book devoted to the art festooning the containers.

Canned! Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can is part of the Art Appreciation curriculum at CSU Monterey Bay.

Well, probably not. But it’s not a bad suggestion if the department wants to spur enrollment.

According to CraftCans.com—yep, already an online database—550 breweries in the category offer canned releases.

OK—that’s not really everyone. There are well over 5,000 craft operations. But Alvarado Street Brewery seals some of their brews in cans. And the new Pacific Grove Brewing Company works only with the formerly despised vessels.

“We were told that bottles are old-school,” reports Pacific Grove’s Scott Runge. “Our first goal was bottles, but the trend is pint four-packs.”

That’s quite a transformation in a short time-frame. The first craft brewery to sell canned beer was Oskar Blues, which ventured from bottles in 2002 with their Dale’s Pale Ale.

So what happened to all that guff about cans lending a metallic taste to beer?

“I wouldn’t say that’s true, unless it’s in the can way too long,” Herrera observes.

Wow—beer makers are now even standing up for aluminum. And yet a Nielsen survey found that only 40 percent of craft beer fans believe their favorite suds taste better or no different when drained from a can as compared to a bottle. That may be enough to elect a president, but not to declare a clear market victory.

Of course, as Bart Watson, reporting on the data for the Brewers Association, pointed out, a number of beers remain available only in bottles or from the tap, skewing the data.

Besides, he wrote in 2015, “The  perception challenge is perhaps one of craft’s own making.”

His logic on this is pretty good. Because early microbrews left the canned market to Bud Light (gah!), Coors Light (double-gah!) and other mass market brands, it gave the impression that good beer belonged only in bottles. And the fact that “premium” and imported brands that gained popularity just before the micro trend also came in green or brown tinted glass furthered this idea.

Unlike the cans of past decades, however, modern versions are lined so brew and metal never meet. And there’s a big advantage in canning.

“In terms of packaging, you can imagine that no sunlight gets through,” Herrera explains.

Light, oxygen and temperature—heat, specifically—are all keen to hunt down and destroy beer. By encasing their product in cans, brewers block light and limit the damage done by air.

Temperature continues to stalk beer, no matter the vessel.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that cans preserve the beer and it’s cheaper to ship,” Runge adds.

Well, that’s a second advantage. Add the lower carbon footprint (cans are lighter) the ease of recycling and—for those who imbibe—the easier portability (they won’t let you throw bottles at a NASCAR track, for some reason; it would make things more interesting), and it would seem aluminum is the only way to go.

Even the folks at Carmel Craft have tested the process. That more small operations haven’t turned toward cans has more to do with access to aluminum—as well as the 60 percent who cling to the old skunked beer myth.

Why then do we have this lingering belief that aluminum causes taint? After all, the metallic taste is due to ferrous ions that form when cereal lipids in grain go through a hydrolysis and free fatty acids suffer oxidation.

Um...let’s just say that sounds pretty scientific, so it must be right. And since the information comes from a sainted Medieval order known as The Knights of the Mashing Fork...except I'm looking through a big, dusty history tome and I see the Templars, but not the Forks.

OK, they’re just a bunch of homebrewers in Connecticut who do too much gaming while waiting for their beer to ferment. Still, they had me at hydrolysis.

Anyway, when the first canned beers came on the market in the 1930s, they may have developed a tinny taint. Those were the days before refrigeration in many places. And transportation took a little longer. I’m told that there were rock-strewn roads and hills in all directions back then.

Heard it whenever I asked for a ride to school.

So that’s it. You can drink beer from cans—good beer, too. And it’s likely more brands will be available in the near future, given the growth of canned craft brews. A pretty easy answer to this week’s Burning Question.

By the way, the first beers to sell in a can were Krueger’s Finest and Krueger Cream Ale. Guess what day?

Come Jan. 24, it’s Krueger time!

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(1) comment

Eddy Kilowatt

"...modern versions are lined..."

That's IT? No further curiosity or comment from the author regarding the material that the beer may spend more of its life in contact with than any other?

I understand it's generally something from the plastic family, meaning it could contain any of resin, solvent, plasticizer, or antioxidants... each with it's own story to tell about solubility and flavor not to mention possible health effects.

People are pretty concerned with what their water bottles are made of these days... don't you think a little more effort than "they're lined" might be warranted for an entire article devoted to beer cans?

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