in the 1980's and 90's people really seemed to like canned beers. Almost all breweries canned their beers, from Multinationals to regional family brewers and even some new, up and coming microbreweries. Cans were available in corner shops and supermarkets and were inexpensive. My first party aged...um...an age, where canned drink was bought, was memorable as much for the antics of the guests as the number of cans and PET bottles that I disposed of the next day.
At Hagueys on Crookes you could buy cans of beer with widgets in - Castle Eden, John Smiths, Guinness, Trophy being ones I remember. These produce a silky smooth, film-like, jet of foamy beer which had almost no taste apart from a slight malt and bitter aftertaste - sometimes a lingering pharmaceutical aftertaste. Probably as bad as smoothflow beers are now.
As soon as I got into real ale aged 18 (ish) I started drinking less cans and moved onto pints and bottles - most notable when I started going to Archer Road Beer stop. Pretty soon I stopped drinking crap cans of bowze. I mean, why would I?
In the US of A, am fairly certain that breweries producing hoppy, excellent quality beers, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Anchor spring to mind in this respect, have been producing their wares in cans for a long time. However, its probably only five years ago in the UK, likely with London based Microbreweries, that high quality hoppy tasting UK beers have started to appear in cans - most noticeably, in my experience, in the last eighteen months.
Given the above memories, and the often sky high cost of such products, I immediately turned my nose up - just like I did with keykeg, before I understood what it actually was. Earlier this year I tasted a couple of UK cans, I think from CamdinBev and Roosters at Sheffield beer week, and really enjoyed them, And then later, Tom, or Barry Valentine at the Beer Engine, kindly gave me and Tash a can of Roosters baby faced assassin to try. I was amazed at how hoppy and distinctive it was. Granted, the beer itself is a hoppy easy drinking strong pale ale, so right up my street, but it tasted superb. What on earth was going on?
I have since tried Beavertown cans, and Magic Rock and think that as long as they are sold at a sensible price, the can is, or rather can be, a valuable means of dispense. A case in point is Magic Rock Grapefruit High Wire. Bought from Archer Road Beer Stop for £2.00 a can, which is a sensible price given its cost on keg, I was immediately struck by just how grapefruity the beer smelled and tasted. I have had this beer on keykeg, which I expected to love, (expectation versus delivery, I know...) and found it disappointing - the grapefruit was no more than a subtle hint in the background, perhaps overwhelmed by the carbonation?
In the can, the grapefruit is a complimentary but strong flavour at the forefront and again in the aftertaste. Supping a can last night I found it was refreshing and fruity and hoppy, as well as excellent value. Is this an example of the can being the best dispense method for a particular type pf beer?
Well, alas I can't say - I have not had the beer in a bottle or on cask so its not a fair comparison. What is a fair comparison is that cans from forward thinking innovative microbreweries now seem far better than the widget weary smooth foam of the nineties. If those selling such a product could be more realistic about pricing then I may start drinking more canned beers. And cans are after all, recyclable.
I would always prefer to drink real ale though, in case anyone is worried...!