Thank Oskar Blues of Lyons, Colorado, for serving Dale’s Pale Ale in a can back in 2002. Ten years later, there are dozens of craft breweries making their beer available in cans.
But why cans? Doesn’t it ruin the taste of the beer? Actually, just the opposite is true. Modern cans, unlike cans from more than 20 years ago, have a water-based polymer lining that prevent the beer from touching any metal while in the can. Canned beer has a better seal than bottles, locking out oxygen that can damage the beer. No light can get inside, which means a canned beer will never be light struck, or skunked. Environmentally, cans are more easily and more often recycled than glass, and because cans are lighter, they take less energy to ship. Finally, cans are much more portable and can go many places where glass cannot.
In no particular order, here are my top 15 craft beers in a can.
Heady Topper by The Alchemist brewery in Vermont is a fantastic and well crafted double IPA. Not only is it one of my top beers from a can, it’s one of my top favorites in general. Heady Topper is a smooth and well rounded double IPA with a hop bouquet that is floral, herbal, dank, grainy, and full of citrus. What is amazing about this beer is the similarities to fresh grapefruit juice: intense aroma, pithy bitterness, a tinge of sweetness, and a slight touch of sour.
If it weren’t for craft beer in a can, Maui Brewing’s beer would not be available on the mainland. The lightweight can makes it economical for Maui to ship their award-winning beer. CoCoNut Porter is made with toasted coconut, which makes it a lot like a gourmet version of an Almond Joy candy bar. It’s dark, rich, smooth, and silky with aromas and flavors of fragrant coconut, dark chocolate, coffee, cola, and nuts. It is the perfect blend of a well craft porter with coconut added as a special treat.
These pioneers of craft beer in a can have several of the best available, including their 10.50% “Ten Fidy” imperial stout. Although this beer looks like motor oil with a head like espresso créma, it is truly a treat of a beer, like rich, gourmet dark chocolate syrup. Ten Fidy tempts you with the aroma of brownies, fresh baked oatmeal cookies, and freshly made espresso. It sounds like dessert, but it is still very clearly beer with roasty malt flavors and 98 IBUs of bitterness, which is as bitter as many double IPAs.
Oskar Blues also makes another one of my favorites G’Knight (also known as Gordon Beer/Ale), which is a hoppy imperial red ale.
Another pioneer in the craft beer in a can movement is 21st Amendment out of San Francisco, California. One of their best, Back in Black, is a great example of a fairly new style of beer, the black IPA. It is jet-black, sweet, and roasty with toffee notes. The balance of malty sweetness, hoppy bitterness, and roasted flavors is impeccable. The bitter bite is a touch spicy but with just the right amount of malt backbone so that everything works in concert.
Another great beer by 21st Amendment available as a special release in a can is Monk’s Blood.
A well crafted malty brown ale, Moose Drool’s oaky-brown color leaves nice lacing on your glass. Moose Drool has a toasty, malty, nutty, and roasty aroma with notes of cacao and a touch of toffee. It’s almost like taking a quick whiff of a piece of almond roca. Moose Drool is a malty and sweet beer, but it is clean and not cloying. With just enough hop bitterness, it has complexity while still being quaffable. It goes down smooth with tons of flavor.
This Belgian-style witbier’s cloudy pale yellow color almost glows on the edges of the glass. Unlike other American craft beer witbiers, White Rascal has almost zero sulfur aroma. Instead, this beer exhibits bright citrus, like lemon, white pepper, and a hint of coriander. The flavor is refreshing with a tinge of sourness that meshes well with the fruity and lemony aromas. Avery Brewing did a masterful job crafting this witbier.
Modus Hoperandi is a refreshing IPA that pours a crystal-clear dark orange/redwood brown color. Its eggnog colored head leaves a thin lacing on the glass. The hop bouquet couples pine resin with grapefruit and tropical fruit. The flavor has a malty profile with bitterness that builds over time. The texture and flavor have an almost vanilla or cream soda quality.
Creative with both their names and their beers, Ska Brewing also offers Mexican Logger, their take on Mexican-style lager and a fun beer.
Osiris is on the darker side of pale, with a glowing orange hue. Homebrewers will love this beer because it smells like boiling wort just after a fresh hop addition. The bouquet is like fresh hops off the vine — earthy and floral with grapefruit citrus notes. Osiris is a full-flavored, 50-IBU pale ale that is balanced with a hefty dose of toasty and malty sweetness. It has a lively aroma and flavor coupled with some complexity. Pale is certainly not ordinary when it comes to Sun King.
Another great beer from Sun King Brewing is Wee Mac, a Scottish-style ale.
One of the few breweries in our nation’s capital, DC Brau offers The Corruption, an IPA with a hazy brown-orange hue. Its pleasant hoppy bouquet shows strong scents of pine, citrus, tropical fruit, flowers, and fresh-cut flower stems. The Corruption’s solid malt base is balanced with just a tinge of sweetness. It stands out among other IPAs with its creamy texture. When you taste this beer, its smoothness makes it hard to believe it is an 80 IBU beer.
Another great offering from DC Brau is their pale ale: The Public.
A brown ale made with coffee, Coffee Bender has the color of a rich cup of artisan joe: dark brown, almost black, with an oaky brown glow. The head is like the darkest part of a café latte’s foam and its aroma is just like freshly ground medium roast coffee beans, softened as if with a touch of cream. Coffee Bender’s noticeable but smooth hop and roasted bitterness is balanced by a definite malty and sweet flavor. It even has a slight amount of acidity, just like a cup of coffee.
Though you shouldn’t judge a beer by its packaging, this beer has a great, nostalgic can, decorated with 8-bit video game graphics. Luckily Tallgrass, out of Kansas, made a pale ale that’s even better than the artwork outside — flavorful, refreshing, well balanced, and quaffable. 8-Bit Pale Ale pours out a crystal-clear light orange color, and its eggshell white head leaves nice clumps of froth on the top of the beer. 8-Bit has a floral quality reminiscent of jasmine flowers. The Cascade and Centennial hops impart a mellow balsa aroma, and the Galaxy hops impart faint hints of passionfruit. Despite a bitterness that is higher than most pale ales, this is a nicely balanced beer with a smooth, refreshing citrusy finish.
They weren’t kidding when then named this beer “Resin.” Its hop bouquet smells a lot like fresh-cut pine 2x4s, with a color like oak. The resin smell has notes of lemon peel and flowers, followed by a touch of malty toffee aromas. As you drink this full-bodied beer, it’s almost hard to believe that this beer is 9.1% alcohol by volume and a staggering 103 IBU. It’s smooth as you drink it, but when you set down your glass, the spicy bitterness builds and lingers reminding you that this beer has hops — a lot of hops.
Not many breweries make Belgian-style beer in a can; still fewer use creative ingredients like poppy seeds. True to its name, Uncommon Brewers make two. One of them, Siamese Twin, is a Belgian-style Dubbel with lemongrass and kafir lime that add a subtle nuance. This beer has a deep amber color with a roasty quality reminiscent of a light to medium roast coffee. The balance of this beer is on the sweet and malty side, with just the right amount of heat from the alcohol to make it slightly spicy.
Another great beer from Uncommon Brewers is Baltic Porter, made with licorice root and star anise.
Barney Flats is a fantastic example of a well made, smooth and creamy oatmeal stout. It has a dark black color with a rich, frothy, and dark tan head. A strong gourmet chocolate aroma is complemented by woodsy notes and a touch of oatmeal. The malt profile is sweet and roasty, but balanced and not too extreme on any of its flavors. It finishes with a slightly toasty bouquet, likely from the oats. Oatmeal stouts are supposed to balance between dry stouts and sweet stouts, and Barney Flats definitely falls directly into this category.
Shift Pale Lager resembles both a pale ale and a lager; the aroma and flavors have the crisp, clean, and dry qualities of a lager but with the fruity and resinous hoppy aromas of an American pale ale. The use of Nelson Sauvin and Cascade hops give it both a fruity white-wine grape bouquet along with light notes of lemon and balsa wood. The flavor is balanced and crisp with a slight hop bite to balance the wonderful grain flavors pale and munich malts. Both the pale ale and lager styles are masterfully combined for a great thirst-quenching beer that is perfect for both hot summer days or even a cool evening.
Special thanks to Avery, Sun King, Tallgrass, DC Brau, and Ska Brewing for sending samples. Another special thanks to my friends who were able to provide me with cans of The Alchemist, Sixpoint, and Surly.
For more on craft beer in a can check out my craft beer in a can articles on Beer 47.
Dave Jensen is based out of San Francisco and is the primary writer and photographer for Beer 47, a blog focused on craft beer, beer events, brewery tours, cooking with beer, and home brewing. By day, Dave continues his work in the beer world as a software developer and founder of BrewOps.