I recently posted about CAMRA giving accreditation as “real ale” to can-conditioned beers produced by Moor Brewery. Now, the point of this post was to express a degree of scepticism about the concept, and the message that this put across, rather than making a judgment on the beers themselves. However, inevitably someone said “how can you criticise something you haven’t tried?”, to which I rather cheekily replied that if Moor would send me some samples for me taste I would give a considered verdict. To their credit, Darran McLaughlin from Moor took me up on this and duly despatched a selection of six cans – of course child-sized 330ml “craft cans”.
His tasting and storage recommendations were: “Just let them sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. I drink them straight from the can because you don't get much sediment, but if you like you could pour carefully. I would pour a light one out fully so you can see that sediment isn't a problem.” However, I wanted to see what the initial level of clarity would be, and how it would be affected by storage.
The first I tried was the 4.1% Nor’Hop, which I drank only a couple of days after receiving the package, and poured the whole contents into the glass. This is a very pale beer with an assertive “New World” hoppiness. Having had little chance to settle, it was distinctly cloudy and, to be honest, very yeasty in flavour.
The 4.6% Confidence I donated to the raffle at the local CAMRA branch meeting, so can’t comment on flavour or clarity. Despite being accredited as “real ale in a can”, it met with a somewhat derisory reception.
The remaining four I allowed to settle for at least ten days, and poured very carefully to ensure I did my best to leave any remaining yeast in the can. I was able to pour them all with no more than a slight haze (although none were crystal clear) and all had sufficient carbonation to suggest that a secondary fermentation may well have taken place in the can.
- Return of the Empire (5.7%) – a strong IPA with an aggressive, hoppy character.
- Smokey Horyzon (5.0%) – a rye beer with a smooth palate and an intriguing flavour deriving from the use of smoked malts.
- Revival (3.8%) – a lighter pale ale, still fairly bitter and hoppy, although less assertively so than the Nor’Hop and Return of the Empire.
- Raw (4.3%) – a darker beer, more like a traditional bitter, although still with a hoppy edge, and rather more carbonation than the Revival.
The exercise demonstrated that, if given a decent time to settle and poured with care, these beers could be served with no more than a slight haze, and underlined (which I had never questioned) that Moor were accomplished brewers capable of turning out a quality product.
However, the whole issue of clarity cannot just be ignored. In the context of draught beer, Ed Wray gives a fairly thorough overview of the issues here, and the point is made that, once you accept *some* degree of haziness, where do you then draw the line as to when it becomes too much?
When it comes to bottled and canned beer, some people seem to dismiss out of hand any concerns that yeasty beer may have an adverse effect on the digestive tract. But these are far too common for them simply to be waved away, and I have to say on several occasions throughout my drinking career I have experienced unfortunate consequences from ropey beer. OK, you may have cast-iron guts, but many others don’t. I have nothing against bottle-conditioned beers, and recognise that at their best, especially at higher strengths, they can be superior to brewery-conditioned ones. But, at their worst, they can be far inferior, and I’d say the ability to pour them clear with confidence is essential.
For this reason, I’d say the whole idea of can-conditioned beer is a flawed concept, nay even a daft gimmick. They fail to meet the reasonable expectation of most canned beer drinkers that they’ll be able to get a clear glass of beer without any waiting period, and they make it far more difficult for the connoisseur of container-conditioned beers to be able to pour them clear and leave the yeast in the bottom.
They’re not intrinsically poor beers, but they’d be far better presented in bottle, and to my mind CAMRA undermines its reputation by giving its seal of approval to them.