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Nov 6, 2007 02:22 PM

My Summer of Canned Beer - A Brief Summary

This is not so much a review of any individual beer, as much as it is a tale of how much beer (good, bad, and otherwise) is available in cans nowadays, and how I think that maybe more beer should come in cans, for aesthetic and practical reasons.

In addition to gallons of draft beer of every persuasion on three continents and two archipelagos, I was able to enjoy some yummy canned Dutch, French, German, and Belgian beers in Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels. I've reported on those elsewhere. And I enjoyed Tiger beer from a big can, on the rocks with a plate of satay, by the river in Singapore.

But this is about the everyday stuff, available at my local liquor stores. And thanks to the various beer fans who posted to my original request (even the ones who insisted I try Guiness, even though in my original post I clearly stated that I don't like Guiness). Because of you, I found out about some cool stuff I would not have known to look for. And even at that, I couldn't find everything.

Generally speaking, there seem to be about four kinds of canned beer: 1) widget cans from England and Ireland, 2) EuroPint (or thereabouts) cans from Germany and the Czech Republic, 3) 12- and 16-ounce cans of dreamy yummy craft beer, and 4) crap.

I did my best to avoid crap, but some of it was inevitable, if only because of things like public events, friends who drink canned crap, and in one or two instances, buying it by mistake.

Crap this summer included
Michelob Golden Draft Light (I'm blaming that on my friend - it's all she stocks in her fridge)
Special Export (oops, my bad, never going to do THAT again)
Stite in the alumibottles (technically not cans, but technically crap)
and I'm sure there were a few more that I've conveniently and blissfully forgotten.

Near crap included
Leinenkugel's Original (not to be confused with their bottled craft beers)
Gluek's (again, not to be confused with the tasty drafts available at their brew pub )

I did sample several widget cans.
Old Speckled Hen
McAndrew's Scotch Ale
As mentioned above, I'm not much of a stout fan (don't like coffee, either), so I passed on the Guiness, Beamish, Young's, and whatever other stouts were available in widgets, and stuck with ales. These ales all had a certain uniformity to them, in part because of the nature of the nitro widget. They were all creamy, all tasty. My two faves were OSH and Boddie's. The Wexford and Tetley tasted almost as good at the OSH, but they were about $2 a 4-pack more than the Boddie's without it's characteristic richness. Most of my widget beer this summer was Boddie's.

EuroPints included
Pilsner Urquell
Bavik Wittekirk and Belgian
OK (Polish)
There were a couple of canned Euros that I didn't try, including Warsteiner. That was in part because I'm not such a fan of it otherwise, so I couldn't justify dropping a twenty on a case.
Like the BritWidgets, and because of the nature of the beast (EuroPils) these all had a certain uniformity as well. The OK was, well, OK but forgettable. The Bitburger was a good selection if I was on my way somewhere to share a bunch of beer with friends. It was good enough to be enjoyable, straightforward enough to be liked by people not committed to darker craft brews, went down smooth on a hot summer day, and was in a convenient 8-pack of 16s. The Pilsner Urquell I think works better in a can than it does in a bottle. It doesn't seem to skunk the same way. Could be because no light penetrates a metal can. The Henniger was a lucky break. I grew up for a while in Frankfurt, and HB was the local brew. Turns out, in the pint cans it's mighty tasty. It's a dark, rich lager. This and the Urquell were my everyday EuroPints. The Bavik is a tasty Belgian in a 12-ounce can as opposed to a pint. I found some in Atlanta. It compared favorably to the Belgian cans I had in Brussels. And I know Sapporo isn't European, it's Canadian, but flavor-wise it's more related to the Euros than anything else. When I'm out for sushi, I like Sapporo in the big cans. Better than the bottled stuff [see notes about Urquell]. So I had a rather a lot of it this summer.

And now to the domestic crafts.
Surly Bender and Furious
Dale's Pale Ale
New England Elm City and Sea Hag IPA
Old Johnny, Colonial Pub Pints Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Hefeweizen
To dispense with the worst first, Gluek's makes the Old Johnny and Colonials. The OJ has a sour front and bitter finish. It's a cheap canned craft brew, but I wouldn't strongly recommend it as being much better than Gluek's massed produced near-crap. The Colonial Pub Pints were much more presentable, but not in the major leagues by any stretch. Again, if you're looking for a decent cheap canned beer, the two ales were quite drinkable. I'd give the hefeweizen a pass.
OK, now the good stuff. Thanks to you guys, I found out about Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues. Very yummy stuff, rich, nice front, nice finish. Then, my local wine merchant turned me on to Sea Hag from New England. Not quite as good as Dale's, but truly a craft beer. This vies with many of the other bottled beers from around the country.
But when all is said and done - think globally but drink locally. We're lucky here in Minneapolis that we have so many beer choices, one of which is a relatively new brewery called Surly. They have several brews, including their Bender, and the heavily hopped Furious. They are sold in 16-oz 4-packs and in growlers from the brewery. This is definitely the best of the lot. And it's local! (to me anyway). This is far and away my first choice for canned beer.

So there's my adventure. There were lots of things I didn't drink and some I did drink but wish I hadn't, and some that were memorable and some forgettable. I do wish more good beers were available in cans, for several reasons. Cans transport better, especially in my backpack when I'm on my bike. Cans recycle better and have more residual value to the packaging industry. Cans don't let any light through; no skunky canned beer.

In Minnesota, our wonderful dog days are over, the sunlight is gone, a cold snap has hit, there was snow in the air yesterday, and autumn is truly here at last. So my summer of canned beer is officially over. But I did have some great adventures, discovered some wonderful treats, and will continue to buy a few of these cans on a regular basis. But now I can go back to that immense variety that is bottled beer.


By the way, I missed this article when it was first written:

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  1. Wow! That was one hell of a report, incredible job.

    I hadn't realized there were so many varieties of widget cans out there, maybe I should start looking for them.

    Makes me wonder what some of my favorite craft brews would taste like in cans instead of bottles.


    1. Good report. I have two uses for beer in a can. I prefer can beer when boating on Lake Minnetonka, and the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 races that I go to because the track does not allow bottles. Wait a minute. Make it three. I do enjoy a Guinness or Boddington's at home on occasion. For the crap variety as you define it, I drink the Leinenkugel's Original Lager. The Widget variety are not the drink out of the can kind. I have to pour those into a glass.

      1. I was in a liquor store in Vancouver over Labor Day weekend, and I was surprised at how many seemingly craft beers were in cans. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try any of them.

        Dale's continues to be a house beer for us. Can't remember the context, but I randomly talked to someone lately who I overheard dissing it just b/c it's canned. Had to set them straight.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ted

          Good for you - they are wrong dissing OB Dale's Pale Ale for it being in a can when they should be dissing it for the diacetyl. Doh!

        2. If you like Oskar Blues' Dale's Pale Ale, be sure to try the same brewery's Old Chub -- a beautiful rich, dark, sweet, smoky Scotch ale. It's not just my favorite canned beer ever; it's among my top ten favorite beers full stop.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Kenji

            I'll second Old Chub as well as Dale's Pale Ale.

            1. re: gardner17756

              Oskar Blue's also makes "Gordon". Kind of a double IPA. I think I paid $14 for a 4-pack in NJ, but it was worth it!

              1. re: hash_slinger

                I love Gordon. Due to the price, I only buy it for myself for birthdays and such. But that makes it all the more special.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  There's some buzz here that Ten Fidy is going to show up in cans in a very-limited way. It's been on tap/cask a few times at The Brick Store in Decatur, and folks always flock there for it.

                2. re: hash_slinger

                  I've seen Gordon. I'm sure, given Oskar Blues' track record w/ DPA and OC, that it is great. But I can't bring myself to pay $15 for a 4-pack of it when I can get six cans of the beautiful Old Chub for about $8.

                  1. re: Kenji

                    I'm not saying you should make it your regular. Just give it one shot!

                    1. re: hash_slinger

                      Yeah, I'm sure I'll give in at some point.

            2. "Generally speaking, there seem to be about four kinds of canned beer: 1) widget cans from England and Ireland"

              I avoid the nitro cans that aren't stout -not that I buy that many of the stouts, but I do think it "works" with that style, but doesn't with pale ales. But, occasionally some non-nitro cans become available- the most recent of which I've found was Fuller's London Pride. I carefully checked the label and then shook the four pack listening for the widget if I could hear it (some are of the type that doesn't float but are round and wedged into the bottom of the can). Got it home, no nitro, but sort of a dull beer really- which I can't remember buying in bottles in years (if I'm buying a Fullers product, it's usually Vintage Ale or ESB).

              I see Bass Ale in cans, too- are they widgeted? Have long ago given up on Bass, tho' it's bounced around from brewer to brewer lately (seems I recall InBev might use different brewers for the cask in the UK, vs. packaged for the UK vs. exported to US kegs , bottles and cans.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: JessKidden

                Boddington's Pub Ale is fine in the widget can. I first had it that way in Dolgellau, Wales. It is just as good here in the states.