On my most recent visit to Tesco, I was interested to see 4x500ml cans of Old Golden Hen on sale at £5 (normal price £5.99). Canned versions of beers better known as premium bottled ales have been around for some time, although I’ve rarely bought them as I tend to prefer to choose a range of different beers and, in any case, they seldom show a worthwhile price advantage over bottles. Indeed, they can even be more expensive – when Morrisons were selling premium bottles at four for £5.50, they had several four-packs of the same beers in cans at a higher price.
Another factor, although it seems less common now, is that some canned ales claimed to have a non-widget “in can system” that was supposed to make them more like draught beer, but in practice just ended up making them a bit flat. Having said that, a while back I did try canned Directors and found it hard to distinguish from the bottled version.
I’d always perceived the buyers of cans of premium ale as, in general, older and more conservative than buyers of bottles, people who had grown up with cans of Stones and Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter and now moved on to something a bit more upmarket. This was reflected in the canned beers tending to be the more established and staid brands such as Pedigree, Abbot Ale and London Pride.
However, we are now seeing recently-introduced beers put into cans such as Old Golden Hen, Adnams’ Ghost Ship and Thwaites’ Wainwright, which don’t tap into the same heritage and reflect the modern trend towards lighter-coloured, hoppier ales. Does this indicate that canned ales are now reaching out to a younger demographic? I have certainly seen references on social media to younger drinkers taking premium cans on train journeys, and to events like barbeques, where bottles would prove heavy and impractical.
Many US craft brewers put their beer into cans, and indeed from an environmental point of view there is much to be said for cans over bottles as they are lighter, and thus cheaper to transport, and also more easily recycled. It’s likely that over time we will see an ever-growing number of British ales available in cans, but a leap of imagination is required before they start to encroach into the single bottle market. And, as I said in my earlier post, there remains a widespread view that anyone buying a single can is a problem drinker, which would have to be overcome.