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Beer in Cans?

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By Dan Clarke

Canned beer hasn’t been widely embraced by the craft beer industry. Times are starting to change, however.

Recently an Oregon brewery asked if TASTE Publications would like to try some of their products which are now available in cans.

We’ve long been familiar with Deschutes’ beers and have frequently featured them in the beer sections of Taste California Travel and Taste Washington Travel. For the most part, our guest reviewers have liked them and so has our staff. It seemed probable that we could put up with whatever they’d send, even if it did come in cans. But how would we treat these canned beers? We prefer to eschew the cheerleader role, no matter how much publicists might wish otherwise.

Karl and ChristopherTwo-thirds of our ad-hoc tasting panel: Karl Layton (L) and Christopher Fairman (R)

Since the fact that these beers are now being canned, as well as bottled, the simplest editorial treatment seemed to be to just taste them. Would what comes out of a can be any different from the bottled versions we had already experienced?

Last week the big brown truck delivered a box of three cans from Deschutes; a lager (Pacific Wonderland), a pale ale (Mirror Pond) and an IPA (Fresh Squeezed IPA). The Pacific Wonderland debuted last spring, yet I don’t remember having tasted it. Mirror Pond has been around since 1997 and could be regarded at Deschutes’ flagship brew. We had enjoyed it on may occasions and had become partial to the hoppiness of Fresh Squeezed since it was introduced in 2015.

A more rigorous scientific inquiry into the relative merits of these canned beers when compared to their bottled versions would have involved a blind tasting--same size samples poured into identical glasses with a corps of craft beer-loving tasters. Nah, way too much work. Besides, Deschutes hadn’t sent bottled versions of these products for a side-by-side comparison.

So yesterday afternoon I showed up at The Shack in East Sacramento. The place has been a pioneer in creating the salubrious climate that has made California’s Capital one of the most beer-centric cities in the country. The Shack advertises that its beer selection exceeds 100 offerings. If the ever-rotating taps of draft beer aren’t sufficient, there are plenty of bottles in the walk-in. Surely, I could find one or two volunteers here to help me analyze these three cans of beer.

As luck would have it, I ran into Christopher Fairman. He’s The Shack’s manager, but had finished his day’s work and was sipping a beer at the end of the bar. Christopher is an accomplished cook who specializes in Thai food and can discern a Pinot Noir from a Merlot. However, his palate is most acute when tasting and describing beer.

While we were waiting for the cans to chill to appropriate temperature, Karl Layton showed up and agreed to join us in our tasting. Three men, all experienced beer fans—not the numbers to constitute a courtroom jury, but better than just one taster.

We discussed the taste of the three beers (didn’t appreciate the lager, but did like the canned versions of Mirror Pond and Fresh Squeezed). None of us could tell any difference in the latter two from the bottled and on draft examples we remembered. I figured our small panel had validated the theory that canned beer could taste just as good as bottled beer.

More interesting, I thought, was our conversation about why breweries might adopt canned packaging of their efforts. As Christopher observed, “Cans are better than bottles in that their contents never receive any light. And you know, sometimes people say that canned beer tastes ‘tinny’, but I always think about it (canned beer) as a keg. In both cases, beer is going into metal.” I suggested that the brewery seemed to be targeting beer drinkers with an active, outdoor lifestyle. Cans were lighter than glass. I knew that, but was the difference that substantial? Yes, said Mr. Fairman, but maybe more important was that cans stay colder in your backpack and when you finished a can of beer in the great outdoors you could crush it and not take up much space in your backpack when you carried out what you’d carried in.

The multi-talented Fairman is also an artist who’s had one-man shows in local galleries. In referencing the eat-with-your-eyes theory of food enjoyment, he commented, “They say that 75% of your view of a dish is from the presentation.” Cans provide a greater opportunity to convey a message—to set a mood for the consumer. All three of the Deschutes cans came with wrap-around graphic presentation on their 12-ounce aluminum bodies. There may have been something to please everybody. I tended to like the outdoorsy scenes on the Pacific Wonderland lager and on the can of Mirror Pond. Christopher had a clear preference for the visuals on the Fresh Squeezed IPA. Asked why, he replied, “I guess it’s the colors. I really like the combination of colors.”

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