High on Hops: Rise of the Cans

Craft Beer Cans

Eagle-eyed beer drinkers have surely noticed an interesting trend hitting store shelves over the past few years. While the number of breweries and beers available are skyrocketing, the number of bottles in the craft beer sections seems to be shrinking. That’s because cans are taking over.

Once deemed only the trade of cheap, big beer brands, aluminum cans have found a growing home in the world of craft beer. Sitting side-by-side with amber waves of bottles, brightly colored, festively decorated cans are amassing shelf space one six-pack slot at a time.

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This revolution owes a huge debt of thanks to Colorado’s Oskar Blues, whose flagship beer, the hop-forward Dale’s Pale Ale, became canned in 2002 and was for many years synonymous with the craft-in-a-can concept.

There are many reasons why installing a canning line is appealing to breweries, despite the relatively high up front costs. Cans are more durable and weigh less than glass bottles, which reduces shipping costs and prevents breakage loss. They also more efficiently block out light and oxygen, the enemies of keeping beer fresh. That’s a massive benefit to brewer and consumer.

The freshness promise of canning creates the idyll of a “mini-keg” of beer that adequately preserves the flavors as the brewer intended. The ruggedness of cans makes them the perfect choice for outdoor activities, from tailgating to backpacking. Cans also chill faster than bottles- good news to anyone who needs a cold beer fast.

Despite the growing popularity of the format, there are some holdouts who believe drinking beer from a can creates a diminished drinking experience, full of metallic off-flavors. And honestly, they have a perfectly valid point.

Drinking beer from a can places your nose directly against the can’s lid, filling your senses with a harsh metallic aroma. The solution is simple. Don’t drink from the can. Pour the beer into a style-appropriate glass and enjoy, just as you would from a bottle. Modern can linings prevent any crossover from the container into the liquid. It’s all in the aroma.

If you need any additional proof that canned beer is the perfect vessel, look no further than Vermont’s Heady Topper, frequently cited as one of the best beers in the world, which is exclusively available in cans.

So confidently grab a six-pack of cans on your next run to the package store. Because calling them “bottle shops” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.