Gone are the days when a plastic bag full of tinnies represented the worst of the worst in the world of beer. No longer do we hear the hiss and crunk of a ringpull and think of piss-water lager or tramps with Special Brew. Yes, my friends, we’re living in the age of the craft can. The bourgeois can. The environmentally sustainable and beer-freshness-promoting can. Bollocks to glass, the future is aluminium.
Cans are cool again – Irish off licence fridges are starting to fill up with tinnies from the likes of BrewDog, Sly Fox, and Brooklyn – they’re selling at a rapid pace, too. The offie I used to work for shifts cans of Punk IPA in a third of the time it takes for bottles of the same beer to be snapped up. I’ve liked this idea of having cans of hoppy beer for a while now: they’re ideal for cracking open when out and about in the great outdoors (or on the bus) and there’s no chance of the dreaded light-strike to ruin the beer’s flavour with that awful skunky taste. Plus, there’s a much slimmer chance of oxidation in canned format, meaning that the consumer gets a fresher and more delicious beer all round. Bingo. What’s the catch? Well, ask most small indie brewers and they’ll tell you that the sixty grand-ish cost of a canning machine is a bit of a buzz kill. Something to work towards though, eh lads?
‘Craft Cans’ aren’t just about the light and hoppy though, as I was reminded when cracking open something a bit special the other day… Ten Fidy – a canned Imperial Stout from Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery.
First off, it’s worth noting that a 10.5% ABV Imperial Stout in a tin is a step or two up from bus-drinking. This isn’t something to be chugging down on a hot day at your neighbour’s BBQ – it may be in a can, but it’s a beer that’s most definitely meant for your very finest glassware.
Ten Fidy seeps out of its stubby little aluminium home like viscous motor oil – black as the night with a thin rim of tan-brown foam. The aroma can only be described as a liquid chocolate tiffin slice: full of cocoa, dark fruits, really dark chocolate, and a touch of vanilla. There’s some thick dark roasted coffee in there too. Again, the taste brings dark luxurious chocolate to the table – a proper glassful of Green & Black’s finest. There’s full-on roasted malt, burnt sugar, porridge oats, more coffee, some sticky figs and prunes, and another little twist of vanilla pod. No hint of the big old booze content whatsoever. It’s an amazingly balanced piece of kit, and the aftertaste of chocolate and roasted malts goes on and on. This is too good to be necking on the number 16 back from the office.
So, my first experience of a legitimately ‘big’ beer from a can was a good one. To be fair, I think I’d still prefer my imperial stouts to be in bottled format. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel about putting a few cans away to age for a while; Ten Fidy is one of those beers that I’d love to revisit after a year or two of mellowing out, but I’d wonder if the inner lining of the can would still be in good nick after that length of time. The last thing you’d want is to ruin something as good as this with filthy metallic flavours.
Nevertheless, cans are here to stay and I’m bloody glad about it: I can’t think of a better way to get beer out into the market in fresher condition. However, when it comes to those ‘bigger’ brews that often benefit from a bit of time, I think bottling still probably has the edge. I don’t think we’ll be seeing tinnies of Trappistes Rochefort 10 any time soon…