Yes, we can craft beer

MICHAEL DONALDSON'S PINT OF VIEW
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2013
beer
CANNED HEAT: Craft beer in tins is becoming hot, says Michael Donaldson.

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Wellington's Garage Project is the first small-scale Kiwi brewer to embrace a growing trend towards canned craft beer.

Beer in cans is not new - it's been happening for 80 years - but for many reasons (cost, negative consumer perceptions), it's not been widely embraced by smaller brewers. Until recently, bottled beer has been perceived as classier than canned beer but there are plenty of reasons for good beer fans to welcome Garage Project's bold move, to be launched in conjunction with the Garage Project Burger Challenge during the Wellington On A Plate food festival next month.

Advantages of canning over bottling are numerous. Less oxygen gets dissolved in the beer, so it stays fresher longer. Beer cannot suffer light-strike - a common effect in green-bottled lagers whereby hops exposed to sunlight develop an awful taste.

Cans weigh less than bottles and are easier to stack tightly, making them a cheaper option for freighting. Cans are easier to recycle. Cans are easier to carry on a picnic.

Jos Ruffell, from Garage Project, is a big fan of the can-drinking experience. "When you crack the top of a can of a big, hoppy IPA or pale ale, the aroma is far more prominent than when you open a bottle," he says.

Ten years ago, only one American craft brewer, Oskar Blues, canned its beer. Now 300-plus US breweries are joining the rush to cans, with Boston's famous Samuel Adams brewery a recent convert after owner and founder Jim Koch ended his "stubborn resistance" to cans by spending two years and $1 million developing a can with a bigger lid and a more defined lip, that he says enhances the experience of drinking from the can.

Ruffell notes that one of America's most popular beers, Alchemist's Heady Topper, produces a can with the words: "Drink from the can!" written around the rim.

One of the main negatives about cans is that somehow canned beer is inferior to bottled beer - which is definitely a perception issue. I've seen plenty of blind taste test evidence from respected writers in the United States to conclude that it's almost impossible to taste the difference between a beer poured from a can or a bottle.

The move to cans confirms Garage Project's status as the industry's leading free-thinkers, and Ruffell sees no downsides, apart from costs (which they've managed to contain). Canned craft beer is "pretty well proven in the United States" he says, adding modern cans are "not the cans we were drinking out of in the 80s".

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Garage Project will initially can Angry Peaches, a wonderfully aromatic Amarillo-hopped pale ale; Pils 'n' Thrills, an American-hopped pilsner; and the lightly smoked bock, Smoke and Mirrors. I can't wait to rip the top off one, or three.

michael.donaldson@star-times.co.nz

Twitter: @mjwd

- Sunday Star Times

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