Yes We Can: Part Deux

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After a period of intense, blog-abandoningly-busy writing, I am back in the saddle.

On Saturday, I attended the Hells Can Party at Camden Town Brewery, where their Hells Lager was launched in cans, at last. I say ‘at last’ because it feels like a long time since I first spied Camden’s small canning plant, and I had hoped to spend the summer with a few crates of Hells, or even USA Hells, in cans. Unfortunately, it took a lot of time (and as I am led to believe, extremely hard work) to get the Hells cans launched. Some noted the oddness of launching a canned lager this close to winter, but when it’s this good, I say why the Hells not?

Camden Town’s bold, sharp branding is perfectly suited for cans, and their artist Mr Bingo has really outdone himself on the Hells can design. A straight adaptation of the Hells Lager bottle label would have been more than enough to impress anyone, but the intensely and eccentrically detailed madness oozing from the Hells can label is something glorious to behold. Packaging aside, the beer inside is the same world-beating, ever-refreshing and fantastic-tasting lager. Once I’d poured it into a half pint mug, I must have finished it in about four or five incredible gulps, a few of which washed down a wonderful pulled pork bun from the lovely man at Prairie Fire BBQ. By eck, even the flipping Mayor (of Camden, sorry Boris fans) showed up.

Anyway, I’ve written about my feelings on cans before, but in a nutshell (for those of you who don’t like being told to click on links when you’re right in the bloody middle of reading something), I think they are the future for packaged Good Beer. Bottles will be seen as premium and special; and bottle-conditioned beers will be treated with even more reverence as a result. Fresh, hoppy beers, however, especially those that have travelled some distance, almost always benefit from the total protection that a can provides.

What’s needed is a few other small UK breweries to take the plunge and get canning. It really needs to suit their image and branding, too. The Kernel, for example, would never can their beer and I wouldn’t want them to. There are some brewers however, whose branding and beers would be fantastic in canned form. Here’s my wishlist:

1. Magic Rock Brewing – Tell me – go on, just try – that Magic Rock’s madcap labels wouldn’t look sensational on a shiny can, especially the metallic ‘shiny football sticker’ labels given to their more limited beers. As for the freshness of those hoppy monsters, well, just imagine cracking open a can of Human Cannonball or Magic 8 Ball and let me know when you’ve finished drooling.

2. Tiny Rebel  Brewing Co – A brewery that’s going from strength to strength, Tiny Rebel are just the kind of brewer to embrace canned craft beer. Their labels could even make the cans look like the spray paint used by their hoodlum teddy bear mascot. Just the thought of beers like Hadouken and Full Nelson tasting brewery-fresh already has me all excited.

3. Oakham Ales – There’s something about Oakham’s beer labels that already reminds me of cans, as they often use a bright, rectangular image that could fit onto one just so. I’d love to be able to come home to a fridge full of cheeky, hop-faced cans of Citra, or, be still my beating heart, Green Devil IPA.

4. Beavertown Brewery – Beavertown’s bottled beers are almost always bottle-conditioned as far as I can tell, but if they could pull off can-friendly versions of Black Betty, Gamma Ray and 8 Ball, I think their branding would look even cooler than it already does on their bottles. Imagine cans of Beavertown at your next barbecue – surely a dream come true.

5. Meantime Brewing Co – It’s surprising in many ways that this old stalwart (over ten years old, people, that’s ancient) of the London brewing scene hasn’t dabbled in cans. They have the quality, consistency and capacity. Cans might not somehow suit the brewery’s schizophrenic mix of innovation and tradition, but really, they should.

I think the main issues, as is always the case with canning, is whether the brewers have the capacity and demand. BrewDog famously outsourced the brewing and canning of Punk IPA cans to Thwaites, but following the building of their new brewery, have taken canning of their beers back home.

Given that a brewer based under a railway arch (admittedly that goes for a lot of London brewers) can pull this off, surely plenty more can, too. What do you think? Is there a brewer in the UK who should be canning their beer and they aren’t? Or is it all a Craft Wanker fly-by-night flight of fancy, best left to them bloody Americans and that? Perhaps, but as Craig Heap notes, the UK has a tradition of canned beer innovation. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Author: Chris Hall

London-based freelance beer writer and blogger. Member of the British Guild of Beer Writers. Co-author of 'Craft Beer: 100 Best Breweries in The World' On Twitter @ChrisHallBeer.

12 thoughts on “Yes We Can: Part Deux”

  1. As BrewDog found, consistency may be a big problem for canned craft beers. Drinkers may expect some variability with bottle-conditioned ales, but won’t want can drinking to be a lottery.

    Plus I would say any failure of clarity is likely to meet with a lot of consumer resistance. If beer isn’t intended to be crystal clear it should be made, er, clear on the label.

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    1. Yes, that’s a good point. I’d like to think that with increased capacity comes consistency, but of course that’s not always the case. I think the brewers I’ve named are all either reaching or have comfortably reached consistency.

      Clarity is another interesting issue, and perhaps why lager is seen as a more commercially viable choice to start with. Having said that, most bottle-conditioned beer labels I see make some reference to clarity/careful pouring, or in Beavertown’s case ‘Yeast is Good’, so I’m sure it could be tackled somehow. Thank for your thoughts.

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  2. I was talking about this just the other day. Screw top wine bottles were seen as a vessel for the storage and delivery of inferior wine – no cork, no good. But wine in a screw top bottle is often, but not always better and it certainly makes buying wine less of a lottery.
    But it took 10 years for wine in screw tops to be accepted by everyday wine drinkers.
    How long for good beer in cans???

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    1. Cheers Richard. There’s some interesting similarities there. Screw top has become the packaging of choice for cheap wine, but also very decent wine too. Corked stuff, sparkling especially, retains its specialness.

      That same concern for quality is at the heart of it. It’ll take time certainly. I’m hoping that quality, commercial examples like Adnams Ghost Ship in cans and now Camden Hells will start to sway people.

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  3. Couldn’t agree more Chris, great post. Up here, Williams Brothers are toying with the idea of canning following their £1m expansion – Double Joker would be every bit as tempting as Human Cannonball.

    I’ve said before – in fact I was saying it again last weekend – that aside from the cost (which admittedly is such a big aside it would be on both sides and right in front of you), if I was opening a new brewery, I’d try and go can-only. There’s your USP, right there.

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    1. Thanks Rich. I’d heard Williams Bros might be canning, and they almost made it into the top 5! Now I’m thinking about cans of Caesar Augustus… Wow.

      Going straight to cans would be a bold USP, for sure. It would need somebody established who was confident of their finances and brewing ability to go straight into it. It’d be fantastic if someone did. Maybe it will be you one day!

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    1. Ah yes. Although, as it’s a prejudice related to the packaging and selling of multipacks, the gradual increase in popularity of higher-priced individual cans might be enough. Having said that, I would be happy to buy six packs of ‘Craft Cans’ even if they were a lot more expensive.

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  4. Provided the beer quality is consistent, and the beer itself tastes great, then canning is certainly a great idea. They are easier to carry (if, like me, you do all your beer shopping on foot and don’t have a car boot to fill up), and they store easily on fridge shelves. A good selection of US cans are making their way over here now, from Ska, Sly Fox, Brooklyn, Flying Dog – but for me these work precisely because they have no sediment that requires careful pouring. I think that would be a key decider as to whether a beer works well in a can or not. I don’t mind a bit of sediment but I don’t want a load of grainy gunk dumped in my glass affecting the texture of the beer (I don’t think anyone wants to drink a lumpy beer!). I do think we’ll see it happening more over the next few years, as long as the consistency is maintained (I haven’t bought any more cans of Punk having been put off by the consistency issues when I first bought them). Human Cannonball in a can, stacked on my fridge shelves, would certainly be awesome!

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    1. Cheers Tania! Yes, consistency is key. I’ve noticed more cans from the US recently, too. In fact, I had Sly Fox’s 113 IPA only last week, and really enjoyed it. I don’t know if I’m telling myself this before I taste the beer, but I feel that I can really ascertain an extra fresh character to imported cans.

      Sediment is big turn off for a lot of people – especially those finding their feet in Good Beer. Cans, in that case, could perhaps win more people over to the cause, with their accessibility and user-friendly nature? Plus, I think almost all Craft Cans would look incredible on the shelf next to the tired, old conventional packaging of most beer cans. Perhaps enough to encourage people to try them.

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