Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Jim Koch crazy?

Last night, with the help of, I came across an article in the Washington Post about craft beer. I'm sure we've all read some rather dubious newspaper articles about craft beer, few papers are known for well researched craft beer articles (unlike beacons of journalistic integrity like this blog), but this one was interesting. The article explains, for anyone who has not purchased beer in the last 5 years, that thanks to American craft breweries you can now find good beer in a can. This is a trend we all need to get used to apparently.

But beyond catching the laymen up on a movement that started nearly ten years ago, the article also rehashes some of the old anti-can arguments. One involves Bisphenol A (aka BPA), the chemical an increasing number of water bottles and tupperware proudly proclaim their independence from. BPA is also found in beer can lining. I for one do not understand the science behind this so I won't pretend to know if this is something we should be concerned about or not. In the end, I think we are all just putting our trust in breweries, the FDA, and others that the things we buy won't kill us, at least not quickly.

Regardless, the BPA issue is not why I am writing this post. I am more concerned about the second complaint about canned beer: the metallic flavor. From the Washington Post article:

"For Boston Beer’s Koch, the main problem with cans is how they affect beer’s taste. Although many brewers disagree with him, he believes that tiny tears in can linings frequently lead to metallic notes and that the plastic linings suck up delicate hop aromas. 'The cans tend to absorb the floral character of the hop and, to me, dumb the hop down,' he says. In developing cans for Samuel Adams, he adds, he hopes to create thicker, denser linings that address those problems."

When I was a retailer in Colorado, this topic came up almost daily. In KC, we have Tallgrass, Avery, Ska, New Belgium, and a few others selling canned craft. But Colorado is ground zero for the Oskar Blues-led "Canned Beer Apocolpse." Oskar Blues, Ska, New Belgium, Upslope, Boulder Beer, Breckenridge, Wynkoop, and AC Golden are just some of the local breweries selling canned beer in Colorado. The state is seen as an early adopter of canned craft, but even in that can-friendly environment, I had many customers who insisted that canned beer just didn't taste as good.

I for one have never had an issue with this. I don't taste metal when I drink canned beer just like I don't taste metal when I drink beer poured from a metal keg. But I am willing to admit that maybe I am just biased, maybe I just want canned beer to taste better because I want to see these breweries succeed. I have tried to be objective about it though. When Ska was still bottling and canning Modus Hoperandi, the brewery blind tasted our staff and we all either preferred the canned version or noticed no difference. Avery produces several of its beers in both cans and bottles and if anything I prefer the cans. But regardless of my preference, I have never detected a metallic flavor from the cans. And I am not the only one, otherwise you would think canned craft wouldn't be exploding like it is right now. From the WP, "In 2009, about 50 craft breweries, mostly small ones, packaged beer in cans; now there are close to 150, and they aren’t all small. By the end of 2012, at least half of the 25 largest U.S. craft breweries will be selling canned beer, twice as many as this year."

So that begs the question, what's with all these people who still think canned beer tastes like metal? Are they crazy? Is it the result of decades of marketing? The stigma of mass-produced beer? Are they literally drinking out of the can instead of pouring it into a glass? What do you think?

Does canned beer taste metallic?
Only if the beer inside is flavorless free polls


  1. Most people who taste metal in canned beer are drinking it from the can. Yes, if you put a can to your mouth, you taste metal. Pour it in a glass.

  2. I think it is simple marketing. Independent breweries like BBC (and Boulevard) talked cans down for years as part of their marketing. When they flip flop and decide to jump on the canwagon it's natural that they'll do some hand waving about how cans were bad but now they found some special cans that they can finally use instead of just admitting that they are simply doing what the consumer demands.

    In my opinion, in my drinking lifetime, the cans used by craft and macro brewers are substantially flavor neutral. Oxidation seems to be a QC problem with a couple of canning craft breweries but the filling process and not the can itself are to blame.

  3. When Tallgrass made the switch i was skeptical. A friend and I did a blind taste test with the last batch of bottled Buffalo Sweat and one of the first canned batches of the same. We both picked the canned version. I'm convinced the cans at this point preserve the beer better than bottles, and they're definitely more environmentally friendly. Once the beer is poured (like all beers should be!) any remaining bias is mental that the consumer needs to get past. Just because crappy beers come in cans doesn't mean that all canned beers are crap.

  4. John, BBC is used by Bluegrass Brewing Company (which bottles) on their tap handles. This led me to misunderstand your comment the first time through thinking that you were talking of the Bluegrass Brewing Company.

  5. Tuffy, I would just assume the canned version of Buffalo Sweat tasted better because it was fresher.

  6. @Chimpotle

    I definitely think there's something to that. It would be more accurate if we could have had the same batch in two packages, but that wasn't possible. But it was close enough to me to show that the cans were not a negative. I'm convinced at least. And I was very anti-can before that. Like John said, the power of marketing.

  7. I am a firm believer that can beer indeed taste better. Hopefully I had the correct foresight in believing the rest of the world would agree with me sooner than later. At Lakeside Tavern I have created a beer list that has 15 different beers in cans, and I plan on adding more to the soon to be GLORIOUS Spring/Summer Beer List!!! Also, it is very refreshing to see an excellent KC beer blog with intelligent and thoughtful comments. Keep up the good work!

  8. I love Cans, especially the 16oz ones that Surly and Tallgrass use. Though I will hate not having to drive to the Ripple boxes to have bottle envy at what others are drinking. But in blind taste tests we found that the Avery IPA held it hops better and tasted fresher in the can.

  9. What about the dms off flavor. Anyone else getting that from some of the rooster cans that hit kc?

  10. I have never noticed DMS with Velvet Rooster before. It's become one of my goto beers, guess I'll have to look for that next time.