Canned beers are becoming more and more prevalent in the high-end craft beer market. But it did take a while – cans have quite an amount of prejudice to overcome. SCOTT ANDERSON rips the lid off the latest fad in the brewing industry.
To many drinkers a beer in a can is a cheap and nasty pale lager, sold in packs of 12, 15 or 24 cans at a low price, with no pretence of quality beyond the ability to deliver around 4 – 5% alcohol by volume in as inoffensive and bland manner as possible.That association saw some drinkers shy away from buying a higher quality and more expensive craft beer, often sold as single cans, rather than in packs. And, if the market was shy, so were some brewers. But others took the chance to put their beers out in cans as well as – or even sometimes instead of – bottles.
Wellington brewers Garage Project and Panhead, along with Coromandel’s Hot Water Brewing were amongst the first to put their beers out in cans; and as time passes more and more brewers are following their lead.
There are good reasons for a brewer wanting to put their hand-crafted, labour-of-love beer into cans rather than bottles. Unlike a bottle, a can could be described as a one-serving “mini-keg”. Just as a carefully handled and well-stored keg is the best way to get the most from a beer, beer in a can is also kept securely airtight and in complete darkness within the container until the beer is opened. This helps deliver the best possible flavour and aroma from the contents within.
Cans are also popular with brewers because of their impact on the production budget, something the manufacturers at the cheap-and-cheerful end of the market have long known. They’re generally cheaper to manufacture than bottles, are easier to store and package (due to the consistency of dimensions of a can compared to all the curves of a bottle), and a metal can is considerably lighter than a glass vessel. The convenience in packaging and lower weight allows the brewer and distributor cheaper shipping and storage options, allowing a good-quality craft beer packaged in a 6- or 12-pack to reach the drinker with a small but noticeable price advantage over similar quality beers sold in 6-packs of bottles.
For similar reasons canned beers are easier for the consumer. Cans can be conveniently carried outdoors, or to a social gathering, (think picnic or boating trip) far easier than an equivalent number of bottles.
Usually when you arrive with a 6-pack of cans at a friend’s barbeque, you still need to pour the beer into a glass to get the best out of it. This is because aroma is perhaps the most important component of taste, and drinking beer from a wide-mouth can will deliver the liquid straight onto your tongue without much chance for the aromas of the beer to mix properly across your palate.
Until now. In what appears to be a first for New Zealand, Auckland’s Behemoth Brewing Company has introduced a Rip Lid can – the entire top panel of the can is pulled off the can, leaving the surface of the beer exposed and creating a convenient single-use, single-sized vessel for the beer within. And, with a clever bit of design, the edges of the lid aren’t sharp; tapering inwards to create a lip to the drinking vessel that won’t risk cutting the drinker’s lips.
The beer Behemoth has chosen to showcase within these new cans is Hopped Up On Pils. Hopped Up is Behemoth’s take on the influential “New Zealand Pilsner” style, a style of lager that emphasises vibrant New Zealand hop flavours as much as the solid, biscuity malt character of the easy-drinking German lager style.
The New Zealand Pilsner style came to the fore with iconic pilsners from Emerson’s and Tuatara, and it was those beers that were two of Andrew Child’s go-to beers when he first started exploring craft beer. Andrew is the head brewer at Behemoth, and when he developed the recipe for Hopped Up about 18 months ago, he wanted it to be easy-drinking, flavourful. A not-overly bitter pilsner in the mould set by the pilsners produced by Emerson’s and Tuatara, but with his own unique Behemoth hop profile – big enough “to keep hop heads like myself satisfied.”
“But even though it is called Hopped Up On Pils, it is our least hoppy beer – I couldn’t resist the pun!”
Andrew first encountered Rip Lid cans while in Melbourne for 2015’s Great Australian Beer Festival, and immediately thought that’s what he wanted to be doing. It took a while to get the cans into production – a terrible brewing accident last year slowed him down, but only just. He acknowledges that these new cans do cost Behemoth more than the standard lids, but he thinks it’s worth it for the drinking experience.
“The whole point of the Rip Lid is that you can drink right from the can and it acts as a glass,” explains Andrew. “People can smell what they’re drinking, allowing them to appreciate the beer more. It is great for people who want to take the beer outdoors with them, without carrying additional glassware.”
I asked Andrew if he’d still recommend pouring the beer out into a glass if one is available. “I’d have to say to go for the can,” he replied. “It’s the whole point of the Rip Lid!”
Much as I wouldn’t want to doubt the man who brewed the beer, I decided to taste test the beer from both the can and from a glass, on a sunny autumn afternoon out on my deck in South Wellington. I opened a can of Hopped Up, and poured half into a tasting glass while the rest remained in the can.
I certainly got a full hop aroma when lowering my nose to the open top of the can. Scents of pine and grass floated up from the generously hopped pilsner.From the glass the hop aroma was less pronounced, likely from the gentle blanket of head covering the surface of the liquid. The hops were less grassy, tending more towards hints of citrus – a bit of lemon, a bit of lime.
Tasting the beer from the can revealed a light mouth-feel and a rounded yet slightly brassy character, a little sweet at first, followed by a rolling note of bitter fruit. From the glass the beer felt softer – again, the hop character seemed more muted, but this allowed a generous and beguiling note of vanilla wine biscuits from the malt to come through.
All in all, I think I preferred from the glass – it seemed a bit more balanced between malt and hops when poured out from the can. When I told Andrew of my findings he suggested that was likely due to the beer being aerated when being poured out – this, and the presence of the head which was missing from the beer in the can would certainly help mute some of the brighter hop flavours, allowing the malty base to appear.
But, from either glass or can, the Behemoth Hopped Up On Pils is another fine take on the New Zealand Pilsner style: hop-forward, without being overly bitter or challenging to drink. It’ll quite happily sit alongside those classic New Zealand Pilsners that Andrew Childs rates so highly.
Currently, it’s just Behemoth’s pilsner that’s made it into these Rip Lid cans; and they’re only sold in single cans. But Andrew tells me he’s planning to put his superb Extra Tasty Beverage pale ale into these cans soon, with a third as-yet-to-be-revealed beer to be released during winter.
I hope soon these innovative Rip Lid cans may also start to appear in 6-packs once the weather starts warming back up – they’re perfect for the beach, barbeque or backyard.
- Scott Anderson, @buzzandhum.
Hopped Up On Pils
New Zealand Pilsner
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