Several months ago I was caught by surprise on two fronts. The first came when the Boston Globe reported on its front page that Boston Beer, makers of Samuel Adams, would begin canning their iconic lager along with their popular seasonals. For years the brewery founder, Jim Koch, said he would never can his beer citing a number of reasons. Yet, there he was in black and white talking about an enormous sum of money spent on research and process to finally come around on the aluminum cylinders.
The second surprise came just a few days later. The magazine I edit, All About Beer, posted the Sam Adams news on its Facebook page and asked for reader feedback. Boy, did we get it. I realized that despite many craft breweries embracing cans for a number of reasons, many readers still saw it as a lesser vessel and cried foul at Sam Adam’s decision.
Canned beer is nothing new of course. It has been done since 1935 when the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of New Jersey became the first to package their ale in cans. Technologies have evolved over the years and the science behind canning has improved, including the lining, which keeps the liquid from touching the metal, this is particularly important for folks who believe that they taste a tin-like flavor when drinking from a can – they are not.
As smaller breweries came to prominence over the last 30 years most chose to bottle, believing that it would separate them from the mass-produced counterparts that were usually cheaper in price and often canned. There were some early adaptors of cans, and some like Oskar Blues of Colorado and North Carolina, that have carefully cultivated a culture celebrating their canned offerings.
There are many benefits to cans, it’s able to keep out light – a big enemy of beer – it is lighter to transport and stack, cutting down on costs. It’s also a friendly alternative to glass at the pool, shore, golf courses and camping (it’s also easier to carry out the empties).
According to the website CraftCans.com there are now 338 craft breweries in the United States canning their beer. This now includes New Jersey’s own Carton Brewing Company, which surprised many – including this reporter – when they announced just a few weeks ago that they were releasing 16-ounce cans of their flagship Boat Beer, an American Pale Ale.
What’s most interesting is that they did this without installing a canning line at their brewery, but rather having a portable line come to them.
“We went mobile because we are out of room,” owner Augie Carton told me in an email. “ So at this point since we want to be the guys canning the beer we make in our house only the mobile option works in this space. They come in, take over our keg cleaning/filling area for a day and disappear without a trace.”
What we, the drinking public, are left with is the only canned craft brewing option in the state. As new beers come to the market, it’s important to judge them on taste and quality not on their packaging. Canned beer is good beer and I’m glad Carton has brought it to market.