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Take it to the beach: Craft beer cans are ready for summer

Local craft breweries embrace canned beer

  • Chicago breweries including Finch's, Half Acre and Goose Island keep their beer beach-ready.
Chicago breweries including Finch's, Half Acre and Goose Island… (Mike Rich )
June 07, 2012|By Emily Van Zandt | RedEye

It's not easy being a glass bottle in the summertime.

Not welcome in ballparks or poolside, dangerous on hikes and at rec leagues, maligned on deck and docks, bottled beer can be a setback during warm-weather adventures.

For fans of craft brews, no-glass-allowed policies may seem a swigging setback. But a growing number of Chicago-area craft brewers are working to keep their beers summer-friendly by churning them out in an easily toteable, crushable and recyclable form: cans.

"Part of the reason [we released a canned beer] was selfishness," said Jason Ebel, co-founder of Two Brothers Brewing Co. in west-suburban Warrenville. "I love to be outside and I wanted a package that was portable."

In early May, Two Brothers released Outlaw IPA as its first canned offering. The brew has a remarkably smooth, fruity kick for an IPA, and you'll find it only in bold red-and-black 12-ounce cans, sold in six packs.

"We already have a following in bottles for our other beers, so we thought it would be a really good opportunity to put something totally unique out there. ... Let's put something out that's never been released and only put it in the cans," Ebel said.

While the canned craft trend has been bubbling locally for a while now—Half Acre's tallboys have been a shelf staple since 2010—it got a big boost in March when heavy hitter Goose Island jumped into the game, canning its super-popular 312 wheat ale. Now that summer has arrived, Goose Island spokesman Mark Mahoney expects cans of 312 to pop up at all kinds of outdoor events.

"312 is for active lifestyle folks. ... People have it at music concerts, sailing, at the beach, grilling out—most of these places aren't bottle-friendly," Mahoney said. "[Going into summer,] we have significantly increased production of the cans of 312."

Cans are a standard offering for most mass-market beer brands, so it may seem strange that craft breweries don't always opt for the container. But the can is divisive in the beer world, with some drinkers complaining of a metallic or "tinny" taste and others praising the method for keeping beer fresher than a bottle.

"Cans have less headspace and no light gets through so [the beer] stays fresher longer. ... Essentially, it's like a mini-keg in terms of freshness," Ebel said. "Generally speaking, they're superior to bottles."

And about that metallic bite?

"There is definitely a stigma," said Charlie Davis, marketing director and one of the brewers at Finch's Beer Co., which sells 16-ounce cans of its Golden Wing blond ale, Threadless IPA and Cut Throat pale ale."My advice would be to pour it into a glass. It's great from the can, but if you're sensitive to the can, it's always better enjoyed from a clean glass."

Finch's has been canning since August 2011 and released their Threadless IPA—a collaboration with the local T-shirt company—just last month.

Lighter-bodied brews such as pale and golden ales are more readily found in cans for the summer season than heavier stouts and porters, and that isn't a coincidence.

"Former [Goose Island] brewmaster Greg Hall was huge into biking," Mahoney said of 312's origin. "He said, I don't want to be drinking a real thick, heavy beer on a hot summer day. [312] is a very easy drinking beer. If you're parched, you can have a few."

Coming soon: Check shelves in late July for the debut of Revolution Brewing's canned beer line. First up: 12-ounce cans of its Anti-Hero IPA and Bottom Up wit. | @redeyedrinks

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