When I first wrote about craft beer in cans way back in 2004, the pickings were slim.
The only American craft beer in a can sold in the Boise area was MacTarnahans Amber Ale. Thats it. Other options were imports like Guinness or Heineken.
Beer enthusiasts were forced to lug bottles to and fro when camping, fishing, going to barbecues, or doing the million other things we Idahoans enjoy all summer long.
A few early adopters like Oskar Blues Brewery from Colorado and Caldera Brewing Co. from Ashland, Ore. did pretty good business filling the can niche at the end of the 00s. (Oskar Blues is dead to me after pulling out of the Boise market in 2010. Unless I see it in a store. Then I am going to buy some. But Ill still be mad.)
Times have changed. 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the can.
Craft brewers all over the United States are scrambling to get their wares wrapped in aluminum and to secure that corner of the ever-expanding craft beer marketplace. Its like an arms race.
Like, if New Belgium can put Fat Tire Amber Ale in a can, Sierra Nevada can put its iconic pale ale in a can. If Sierra Nevada decides to put its Torpedo Extra IPA in four packs of 16-ounce cans, well, New Belgium can put its Ranger IPA and its Shift pale lager in 16-ounce cans.
Then Red Hook says, well, what about us? We can put our Long Hammer IPA in a can.
Snake River Brewing out of Jackson, Wyo., has gotten rid of bottles altogether. Deschutes Brewery had hoped to have Mirror Pond Pale Ale in cans by this summer, but that fell through. Soon, they say.
All the Treasure Valleys favorite beer stores (think the Boise Co-op, Bier:Thirty, Brewers Haven and Brewforia) have a great selection and report brisk can sales, especially in the summer.
Just the other day, I walked into the Boise Co-op and purchased 16 different cans of brews I would totally drink on a camping trip, after a hike and during a wiffle ball game. I bet I left 10 others on the shelf. They pretty much cost the same as bottles (cans ranged in price from $1.29 for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Big Sky Brewing. Co.s Moose Drool to $1.79 for a can of Anderson Valleys Hop Ottin IPA to $1.89 for a 16-ounce can of New Belgiums Ranger), and they fit way better in the fridge or a cooler than bottles.
Why are cans superior? They are lighter, smaller and more portable. This is good for personal recreation and for the environment in some ways as the lighter weight and size of cans means more are packed per truck, thus reducing the carbon footprint of delivery.
They protect your brew from damaging UV light and oxygen which attack beer like the Cavity Creeps lay siege to your teeth.
Cans cool down much faster than glass bottles and are pretty strong, although some seem more likely than others to develop leaks if you drop them. (Im looking at you, Anderson Valley Brewing Co. Your cans need to hit the gym and bulk up).
The issue of can taste is non-existent, as all modern cans have liners that keep the beer away from aluminum. This lining does have the dreaded Bisphenol A (BPA), but well get to that later.
Cans are way more likely to be recycled than glass and are much easier to toss to somebody else across the yard at a crowded party.
For home use, you should be pouring your beer in a glass to drink it, anyway, so the can is not an issue. Out in the great outdoors, I cant tell any difference between drinking from a bottle or a can.
There are some cons to cans, however. Any foodstuff (beer, soup, vegetables, pop, gravy, etc.) that comes in a can these days has an epoxy liner which contains the controversial BPA a chemical linked by some studies to cancer, infertility and obesity which leeches into liquids in incredibly tiny amounts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged there are questions about the impact BPA exposure could have on the human body, but previous studies have determined the amount of BPA assimilated is so minute that it doesnt rate as a health risk for adults.
So drink at your own risk. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium both point out on their websites that they still sell all their beers in bottles. Sierra says it will switch to a non-BPA liner when such a thing exists.
Then there is the issue of the creation of aluminum itself, which includes hard-core strip mining and the use of toxic chemicals to extract the metal from bauxite ore. The recycling of aluminum is not that efficient, either.
Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas Brewing Co. from Petaluma, Calif., went on a Twitter rant in April, saying Lagunitas would never put its beer in cans because of bauxite mining. He tweeted a few pictures of bauxite strip mines and questioned the green qualities of cans.
The fact that this is an issue with craft beer folks illustrates the industry-wide commitment to conservation values and artisan principles. How many millions of cans are produced each year by the big corporate brewers? How many cans of pop are sold in the U.S. every year? I am pretty sure those huge companies arent worried about their customers boycotting their wares over bauxite mining.
© 2012 Idaho StatesmanPatrick Orr: 377-6219Patrick Orrs beer column runs the first Friday of the month.