Cans aren’t just for the big brewers anymore. And they’re not just for start-up breweries trying to do something different. An increasing number of breweries in the Twin Cities are opting for cans as part of their repertoire — or adding larger-than-standard-sized cans to their lineup.
Cans are better for camping and other outdoorsy events that go better with beer. They keep the cargo as fresh as, if not fresher than, the traditional brown bottles that typically denote a craft beer. Unlike glass, the aluminum walls block all the sunlight, and the seal is tighter than that provided by a pry-off bottle cap. The result is a properly carbonated beverage that will stay that way longer. And unlike a thin-necked bottle, the can (and especially the tallboy) allows for complete utilization of the surface to express the brand’s identity and describe the story of the suds inside.
As the advantages of canning have become more widely known, canned beer is less frequently seen as something cheap and ready to be drunk out of a brown paper bag, a brewing-world parallel to the rise of the screw-cap wine bottle. When brands create a can option they also open the door to marketing opportunities: For some, it means selling at outdoor concerts (a la the Schell’s Zommerfest 89.3 The Current tallboy), and for others it means appearing at sporting venues that in the past were monopolized by big brands.
Other positives: Smaller liquor stores keep cans, not bottles, in their coolers, which means new and better choices for people looking for a convenient cold one. And larger liquor stores, with limited chilled space, tend also to have a section that specializes in cans of craft beers so they are easier to find. Surdyk’s goes beyond, and has a specialized “local” can mini-cooler (which includes some beers from Wisconsin and Illinois) near the checkout.
Sociable Cider Werks has just begun canning and will release its first batch soon; Summit is releasing its next Unchained Series beer in a can; Surly has been canning since the beginning; and many fledgling breweries have canning plans in the works. So while cans tend to be reserved for summer beers drunk outdoors, crushed on heads, and stashed in backpacks, we found a few that are available year-round in the commendable can. But when you’re drinking them at home, just as with bottles, we recommend canned beers be poured into glasses for the full olfactory experience.
Mexican Honey Imperial Lager by Indeed Brewing, 8 percent ABV, 17 IBU
The Mexican Honey Imperial Lager won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival last fall, and to celebrate, the Indeed team decided to can it in 16-oz. tallboys. Last year’s off-shoot, the Mexican Cousin, a beer aged in Anejo tequila barrels, was available only on tap or in 750 ml bottles. The rest of the Indeed lineup comes in 12-oz. cans, while the seasonals and special releases are available in 750 ml bottles, making the Mexican Honey a bold move.
Flying like a butterfly, without the sting of a bee, the Mexican Honey is deceptively potent. The Mexican orange blossom honey in the recipe increases the gravity without adding sweetness: It increases the floral notes, leaving behind the afterthought of hops. The brew is a multilayered lager with a laudable back story that makes us long for summer.
Getaway Pilsner by Lift Bridge Brewing, 5.2 percent ABV, 30 IBU
Created in 2014, the Getaway Pilsner is one of two Lift Bridge beers in 16-oz. tallboy cans — the other being their flagship, Farm Girl. Judging by the packaging and the name, the beer is targeting the summer mentality, and the taste lives up to our high expectations.
An admirable alternative to mainstream light lagers, including the ubiquitous beer of summer, Bud Light Lime, this pilsner is flavorful and fresh. The overall effervescence accents the almost-fruity notes, resulting in a rich and relatively sessionable experience. Our only complaint is that the beautiful redesigned can, while in line with the taste and nature of the beer, sticks out like a sore thumb among Liftbridge’s otherwise dull brown bottles, making it a branding outlier.
Unrated Rye India Pale Ale by 612Brew, 6.9 percent ABV, 80 IBU
Since installing a canning line last fall, 612Brew has made three beers available in cans, the Unrated, SIX, and the Gateway Park Lager. The can designs are eye-catching and on par with the 612 branding. The beer itself is of a light caramel color and has a fresh citrus aroma and a balanced hop backbone. Not as dark as some Rye IPAs, and definitely more hoppy, it maintains the style’s full and velvet mouth feel without the bitter, roasted grain flavor. A solid yet uneventful IPA, the Unrated is a good fit for the versatile can.
Saga India Pale Ale by Summit Brewing, 5 percent ABV, 80 IBU
A few years ago, Summit Brewing turned a corner in its beer innovation and production, and as part of that transition — with the help of a new facility — started canning a selection of beers in the early summer of 2014. The three beers available now are the two biggest sellers — the Extra Pale Ale and the Saga IPA — as well as a rotating seasonal: either Summer Ale or Winter Ale. Unlike Summit’s previous IPA, which was unbalanced, astringent, and overall sub-par, the Saga has grapefruit notes and a clean overall finish rather than the bright finish of many other locally available IPAs. The beer has a dirty blonde color and the same IBU levels as 612Brew’s Unrated, but its hop notes are more subdued, resulting in a lighter-bodied, balanced brew.
Next week Summit will release tallboys of Hop Silo Double IPA from the Unchained Series in another exciting iteration. The can’s design is identical to the six-pack branding, which was reworked in 2013.
An earlier version of this article indicated that Sociable would release its first batch on Wednesday, February 26, but the brewery began canning on that date. The text has been modified to reflect this. The relationship between Indeed Brewing’s Mexican Honey Imperial Lager and Mexican Cousin has also been corrected.