However, in recent years canning has been enthusiastically taken up by the US craft beer movement, as described here. The off-trade is relatively more important in the US than in the UK and so that is a market they cannot afford to ignore. Cans offer significant advantages over bottles – they are lighter, and thus cheaper and more environmentally friendly to transport, they are more easily recycled, they prevent the contents being lightstruck, and they offer a much bigger canvas for the brewer to make a statement. The bold can designs favoured by many US craft brewers are very different from their usually much more restrained British equivalents.
So far this trend doesn’t seem to have made much impact on this side of the pond. Yes, BrewDog have produced Punk IPA in cans, and I believe it was even spotted in Sainsbury’s a few years back, although never by me. And some of the more “new wave” mainstream beers such as Old Golden Hen and Ghost Ship have appeared in cans too.
But things appear to be moving, with a growing number of British craft beers, such as Camden Hells, being made available in cans. And a line was crossed earlier this year when Wetherspoons introduced three canned US craft beers from the Sixpoint Brewery. Initially, many, including me, were sceptical about this, but their popularity seems to have steadily grown, with several beer bloggers even saying that they were the best thing to drink in Spoons.
I’ve reviewed them myself here. Not a huge fan, but it’s an interesting innovation. And, slowly but steadily, the dam seems to be breaking, and the acceptance of “quality” beer in cans is growing. Only the other day, I spotted Pistonhead Lager in one of my local pubs. OK, this may be “faux craft”, but it’s certainly aimed at the craft market.
There’s a growing population of younger drinkers who don’t recognise the old-fashioned negative connotations of cans and who are eager to embrace something that seems contemporary, funky and eco-friendly. There’s even a Twitter hashtag going #Summerofcans.
Could it turn out that it is the acceptance of cans, rather than craft keg, that turns out to be the ultimate factor leading to the sundering of the new-wave beer enthusiasts from the real ale diehards? Drinking beer from a can is a pretty decisive statement of rejection of the old certainties.
I wonder how long it will be before the first craft can turns up in my local Tesco. But I do wish they’d sell it (at least at lower strengths) in the proper 500ml cans rather than those kiddypops 330ml or 355ml sizes. Also, if craft cans are to take off, it may require the abandonment of the prejudice against selling single cans on the grounds that it makes them more accessible to problem drinkers. You’re much more likely to experiment with one can than a multipack, which is one of the reasons behind the success of bottled premium ales and world beers in the off-trade.
Edit: no sooner had I put this post up than this appeared on Twitter - surely Beavertown are the crafterati’s craft brewery...