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Monday, August 12, 2013

Beer in Cans

Can a Brewery "Jump the shark"?

On September 20, 1977, the TV show Happy Days presented it's fifth season premier with an episode entitled Hollywood: Part 3. In it, the wildly popular character known as The Fonz, played by Henry Winkler, on water skis and wearing swim trunks and his iconic leather jacket, jumped over a captive shark. This bizarre episode, for many, marked the point at which the Happy Days writers had gone over the top and run out of fresh ideas that adhered to the show's core concept of a tongue-in-cheek nostalgic take on '50's era teen and family life. To some, The Fonze, initially a secondary (or even tertiary) character, had officially hijacked the show (something that,
let's face it, happened long before that episode). Since then, the term "jumping the shark" has come to refer to the point in any series where the writers have seemed to run out of new ideas and over reach with over-the-top situations.

So I got thinking (always a dangerous proposition) can a brewery jump the shark?  Can a brewery, in an attempt to constantly come up with new and different styles of beer move too far from what makes beer beer? Consider all the various additives cropping up in craft beers; blueberry, raspberry, cherry, apricot, chicory, ginger, maple, juniper, tea, grapes, orange, lemon, lime, coriander, honey, chamomile, doum-palm fruit, raisins, currents, vanilla, pumpkin, nutmeg, chocolate, coffee - to name a few. So is there a point at which the brew is no longer a beer? I have tried a number of these strange brews because I tend to have an adventurous palate. The results have been varied, ranging from "surprisingly good" to "noble effort" to "really?" I had a raspberry beer once that tasted more like a soft drink than a beer. I do not want a brew that has lost its basic "beer-ness." If the flavor enhances the beer, plays delicately in the background, teasing the tongue tantalizingly, as it were, in support of the main characters, Hops and Malt, then I generally can enjoy the beer. But if the additives overpower the beer, I'm one-and-done with that brew.

So can a brewer "jump the shark"? Nah! Let's face it, the guys that go into craft brewing are risk takers and rule breakers. We wouldn't want them any other way.

Yes You Can Can

In an earlier post, I speculated about sometime doing a "craft beer in cans" BOTB tasting. At the time there were not a lot of craft beers in cans out there so we would have been limited to Oscar Blues' lineup (albeit a very tasty lineup) and a few scattered lagers and pales. While there were some other fine breweries out there that were can-only productions, availability was an issue. Then suddenly craft brewers around the country began to can - at least their flagship beers if not their entire lineup. As I mentioned in that earlier post, cans keep out beer's age-old enemies, light and air,
far better than bottles. Cans are lighter, therefore easier to transport, and their shape and size make them much easier to store. Cans are almost universally recyclable. And the old fear that beer in cans takes on a metallic taste from the cans has long been conquered with the introduction of a polymer lining that coats the inside of all beer cans. Metal never comes in contact with beer. But bottles hold a certain elan. There is a kind of primal satisfaction to opening a bottle of beer (with an opener, not twist-off) that's not quite there with a can. But putting that aside, just how tasty is that beer in that can? We intended to find out.

Down a man, we've carried on before - because we are a dedicated group, and mostly because we are beer lovers and a social group. for this club meeting,we were down two members, which made for completely uncharted territory. We soldiered on (sans the input of Hal and Gerry). We were on a mission. Yes, beer stays fresher longer in cans. But are there some really good beers out there in cans? If so, let's try them and rate them.

To begin, we got a little gift from the good folks at the Boston Beer Company: several 2-can packs of Samuel Adams Boston Lager for us to sample. Sam Adams has been very generous to us in the past and we're always happy to review their products. Each 2- pack had a new Sam Can of Samuel Adams Lager and a can of Samuel Adams Lager in a traditional beer can. We didn't review the beer itself, just the new Sam Can vs. the traditional can. Here are the key differences between the two according to the company:

     -The wider lid allows for more air flow into your mouth
     -The can opening is slightly further from the edge of the lid, closer to your nose
     -The extended lip places beer at the front of your tongue
The can was in two years of development. Just eyeballing it, the modifications are so subtle that it's difficult to see any difference. Most noticeable is the flare at the top when viewed from the side. But, as you can see in the photo below, the distance from opening to edge is noticeably further with the Sam Can on the left.

Anyhow, here are our observations and random musings:

     ~ It is much better than drinking from a bottle
     ~They made changes that weren't earth-shaking but were worthwhile for drinking from a can
     ~You take a swig from one then from the other, you do get a little more of a full flavor. I think.
     ~Nice design (the graphics)
     ~Wow! You know you are dealing with some real beer nerds (and I mean that as a compliment) when they take two years of research and development to design a can as subtly different as this.
     ~Difference between a craft brewer and a mega brewer: the mega brew designs cans and bottles to let you know when the beer is cold enough so that you can't taste anything, Sam Adams designs cans to deliver as much flavor as possible.
     ~How about having the whole inner top come off to reveal a metal "glass"?

We were glad to see Sam in a can; like the design. Would really like to Latitude 48 in a can next. Thanks Sam.

Irish Beer Discovery Pack

While Guinness is a far cry from a craft brewery, our focus was on beer in cans and Guinness has broken a packaging paradigm as well with an innovative 8-pack which contains a mix of their most popular brews - Smithwick's Irish Ale, Guinness Black Lager and Guinness Draught - along with their newest beer, Smithwick's Pale Ale. The box contains two each of the four brews. Each can is 14.9 oz. We liked the 8-pack idea. I mean, really, what's not to like about more beer? We decided to include the newest member of the Guinness family, the pale ale, in our taste test.

Smithwick's Pale Ale
Smithwick's, St. Francis Abbey Brewery, Kilkenny, Ireland

The Beer Facts: Smithwick's is owned by Guinness; STYLE: English Pale Ale; ABV: 4.5%; MALT: Pale Ale Malt; HOPS: Amarillo: YEAST: Smithwick's Yeast

What the Brewer Says: "The newest addition to the Smithwick's range, Smithwick's Pale Ale is a quality beer with a fuller taste, craft brewed with the finest ingredients."

Color: Pale yellow

Pour: Decent head - though not Guinness porportions

Aroma: British yeast aroma, hint of banana

Body: Medium

Taste: Fairly balanced, more malty than hoppy, as you might expect - a good Irish beer, with notes of malt and nuts.

Overall Impression: "I could drink this"

Comments: "It's a nice pale ale; Surprised at the low ABV, makes a good session beer; It has a little hop kick to it; I like it better than regular Smithwick's; Tastes smooth and clean; It's a pale ale - it's not bad; 8-packs, a great idea; I like the can design."

Green Monsta IPA
Wachusetts Brewing Co., Westminster, MA

The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: 55; MALT: Caramel 40, Caramel 80, Bondlander Munich, Rye and American two-row; HOPS: Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial.

What the Brewer Says: "An All-American yeast teams up with Cascade, Amarillo and Centennial for a homerun of hops in every sip."

Color: Unfiltered honey / apricot

Pour: Little better than decent head

Aroma: Between neutral and hoppy. There is a bit of a hops nose to it

Body: Medium

Taste: Towards the bitter / hoppy side of balanced. There are notes of pine and grapefruit.

Overall Impression: Enthusiastic "Can't get enough!"

Comments: "Even a non-Red Sox fan can't help falling in love with this beer!; It has a nice, bitter bite; A great beer for sitting back to watch a baseball game; Quite drinkable; I'd never had it before, but won't hesitate to have it again; Decent malt backbone."

Snapperhead IPA
Butternuts Beer and Ale, Garrattsville, NY

The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.8%; IBUs: NA; MALT: 2-row barley, cara-malt; HOPS: Whole leaf

What the Brewer Says: "Our India Pale Ale packs typical IPA balls but strikes a better balance between dryness and drinkability. It's every bit as rich but a little less bitter than other American interpretations of the breed, and here's why. We are smarter, better-looking brew masters."
SIDE NOTE: Their web site is one of the more entertaining ones out there. Worth a visit: It's got a kind of Monty Python vibe to it.

Color: Unfiltered honey / apricot

Pour: Decent light tan head

Aroma: Neutral

Body: Medium

Taste: Balanced, particularly for an IPA. Not a strong hops presence, but there are notes of malt and caramel.

Overall Impression: "I could drink this."

Comments: "This is a far cry from what they used to produce - much better; I like it; They keep the price down on this as well; It would make a good session beer; It's a real easy-to-drink beer; It tastes more like a pale ale than an IPA; It's a bit water for an IPA; It reminds me of Founder's All Day IPA."

Brew Free or Die IPA
21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA

The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0%; IBUs: 70; MALT: Two-Row and imported Munich; HOPS: Columbus, Cascade, Warrior; YEAST: Top Fermenting Ale Yeast.

What the Brewer Says: "Brew Free or Die IPA is brewed with some serious West Coast attitude. This aromatic golden IPA starts with a sucker punch of six different hops to the nose, quickly balanced by a solid malt backbone. Our top selling beer at the pub, this IPA starts big and finished clean leaving you wanting more."

Color: Cloudy honey

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Nice hops nose

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Towards the bitter (and a nice bitter finish), with notes of nuts, grapefruit and pine.

Overall Impressions: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "It's good - very good; Nice finish; It's an interesting label, busy and political; Nice after-taste; When I buy an IPA, this is what I want to taste; A fabulous beer; If someone twisted my arm and said this is what I have to buy, I wouldn't feel bad; A nice West Coast IPA."

Snake Dog IPA
Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD

The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.1%; IBUs: 60; MALTS: 60L Crystal; HOPS: Warrior, Columbus; YEAST: American Ale

What the Brewer Says: "Big citrus (notably grapefruit) hop aroma and flavor with caramel malt notes."

Color: Buckwheat honey colored

Pour: A near Guinness head

Aroma: Pretty neutral. Slight hops and malt nose.

Body: Medium

Taste: Fairly balanced, with notes of nuts, grapefruit and caramel

Overall Impression: Just shy of "Can't get enough."

Comments: "A good East Coast IPA; Really interesting and busy can design; This has a nice malt backbone; It's a dangerous beer - it doesn't taste as big as it is; A 'nice' big beer; It's a relatively big beer without being over-the-top."

Loose CANnon
Heavy Seas Beer, Halethorpe, MD

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.25%; IBUs: 45; MALT: 2-Row, Munich, Caramalt; HOPS: Warrior, Simcoe, Palisade, Centennial, Cascade, Citra; HOPS NOTE: Referred to in the packaging as "Hop3." There are 3 pounds of hops per barrel. Also the hops are introduced in three ways: kettle, the hop back, then dry hopped. We reviewed this beer in 2011 when we looked at "boat beers." It was not in a can then.

What the Brewer Says: "Our flagship beer, Loose CANnon is finally available in cans! It is a most fragrant IPA - its nose bursts with notes of grapefruit, herbs and pine. A floral quality that pervades the taste. The color is burnished gold, and the mouth-feel is creamy."

Color: Wheat

Pour: Decent head with nice lacing

Aroma: Hoppy - grapefruit and other fruity hop n otes

Body: Medium

Taste: Leans to the hoppy, with notes of caramel and slight grapefruit - though not as much as the aroma would lead you to believe.

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "There's a spiciness to this; It's not the IBUs, but when they're introduced; Simcoe gives a real nice spicy taste that separates it from some of the others; It's a nice summer IPA - tasty and drinkable."

3 Beans
Six Point Brewery, Brooklyn, NY

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Unspecified; ABV: 10%; IBUs: 85; SRM: 31; MALT and HOPS: Information unavailable; EXTRAS: Romano Beans, Cacao Beans, Coffee Beans.

What the Brewer Says: "As the culture of beer spread around the globe, diverse new brewing styles emerged. When the brewers of old Baltic Europe riffed on a popular foreign style, they formulated new recipes by harnessing familiar techniques and locally available ingredients. 3 Bean is Sixpoint's tribute to those bygone brewers: a rich, oak-aged brew with our own additions of chocolate and coffee."

Color: Black coffee

Pour: Decent off-white or almond head.

Aroma: Coffee

Body: Full

Taste: Sweet, with notes of malt, nuts, toffee, heavily of coffee, a little chocolate and caramel with a dark chocolate bitter bite.

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "WOW - that is a beer!; It tastes like a good dessert beer; Maybe of brandy; Sweet but with a bitter bite; It slaps you up side the head; A great after dinner drink; It's a well designed beer; It's a 'huge' beer; It's sweet, but deceptive; This is amazing."

Newcastle Brown Ale - 5 liter can
Owned by Heineken, brewed at John Smith's Brewery
Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England

Just as we were about to call it a day, having diligently tasted and rated no less than eight beers, Dan came up with one more canning variation - a 5 liter can of Newcastle Brown Ale The apparent influence of owner Heineken can be seen as the 5 liter can is similar to the ones Heineken has been using for the last few years. The beer inside, however, is far superior.

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Brown Ale; ABV: 4.70%

What the Brewer Says: "Newcastle - no bollocks."

Color: Dark copper

Pour: Better than decent head with good lacing

Aroma: Banana (British yeast)

Body: Between medium and full

Taste: Sweet, with notes of bread, nuts and yeast

Overall Impression: "I could drink this."

Comments: "This 5-liter can is so much better than their clear glass bottles; Those clear bottles are their biggest problem - I've had some that has that skunky aroma and taste - there's none of that here; It has a nice draft taste; It's a good value for the price; It's a good draft; Before the craft beer movement, I used to always look for this at a bar."

And we were all still standing! More or less.

Who won the battle of the cans?
-Pretty close call between Green Monsta IPA and Brew Free of Die IPA, with Loose CANnon right in the mix.
-We found 3 Bean an outstanding beer, but at 10% ABV it's not exactly the one beer to have when you're having more than one (a reference for those of you old enough to remember Schaefer beer ads). But what a terrific sippin' beer.
-Snake Dog fared well.
-Snapperhead is a nice session beer, though we felt it more of a pale ale than an IPA.
-Smithwick's Pale Ale makes a nice addition to the Guinness family.
-Newcastle Brown Ale is far superior when canned vs. the clear glass bottles and the 5 liter can is a neat idea.
-We liked the Sam Cans and the way Samuel Adams continues to find ways to bring out the flavor of their beers vs. trying to hide a lack of flavor ala the mega-brews. Would still love to see that Latitude 48 in a Sam Can.

Next month - American Pale Ales

The BOTB Guys

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