Thanks in part to the rise of craft-beer culture and improved canning technologies, the idea that canned beer is lower quality seems finished.
How did it happen? Jaz Wearin of Modus Operandi Brewery in Mona Vale, Sydney, thinks it’s scientific.
“A big killer of beer quality is ultraviolet (UV) light and oxygen,” says Wearin. “Glass bottles are susceptible to that. But a can keeps the beer as fresh as it was when it left the tank.” Aluminium shields the beer and avoids what’s known as “lightstruck beer”.
Wearin says cans are a superb way to store and serve craft beers, which often have a higher hop content and require greater attention to freshness. Cans are also lighter and cheaper to transport; they can be drunk in places where glass is not allowed, and aluminium cools quicker than glass (a high priority for many beer drinkers).
Modus Operandi was the first in Australia to implement the use of the CANimal machine, an invention by Oskar Blues Brewery in the States, which lets punters take home any of their favourite tapped beers via a bar-top canning device. The industrial-looking machine is like a growler (a glass bottle that can be capped to transport beer). A topless can (at Modus they come in 946-millilitre and 500-millilitre sizes) is filled at the bar and topped to seal in the hoppy goodness.
Modus Operandi currently offers all of its beers in cans at the bar via the CANimal machine, as well as 500-millilitre cans of Modus Pale, Former Tenant Red IPA, and select, limited releases from Wild Goose on-site at the brewery. The Modus Session IPA will join the canned range in late-September.
Chris Sheehan, head brewer for James Squire and Malt Shovel Brewery, says it’s the practicality of cans that makes them so loveable.
“People know cans chill faster, they’re easier to stack in a fridge, and they’re lighter. The fact they don’t shatter is good too,” says Sheehan. James Squire 150 Lashes and Orchard Crush cider are both packaged in cans, and Sheehan says there’s no reason the canned range won’t expand in the future. Like Wearin, Sheehan points to the practical; canning is in the brewer’s favour.
“Getting the lid on and sealed quickly to make sure beer never comes in contact with light or air,” he says.
Matthew Rees is the national sales manager at Sample Brew in Collingwood. He says there’s another reason to can “hoppy, aromatic beers” that aren’t pasteurised.
“There are active elements to those beers that need to stay alive for it to be healthy and taste fresh,” he says. The introduction of a canned beer at Sample coincided with the decision to add a hoppier Indian Pale Ale to the range.
“When we were talking to consumers, the two biggest questions were, when would we introduce an IPA into our range? And when would we introduce a can?” he says. “So for us it was answering two questions in one.” With the success of the canned IPA, Sample plans to introduce another canned beer this summer. Rees also says the resurgence of interest in cans is down to them being more visually appealing than bottles.
“Labels fit a certain space on a bottle just by convention, and that’s the space you’ve got to work with,” says Rees. “With cans, that whole space becomes a working surface.”
He says the rise of cans has created an alternative “state of mind”; they free high-brow beer drinkers from becoming too rigid and conformist, allowing them to enjoy what makes cans a relaxed, fresh-tasting alternative.
“The craft beer section is still growing and it’s so vibrant,” says Rees. “[Canning] is a way of preventing it from getting too high-minded. Cans are a state of mind, aligned with the outdoors, fun and [being] a little less stuffy. That was a big thing for us: capturing a different headspace.”
This article is part of the Spring Craft Beer Quarterly presented in partnership with James Squire.