Can you dig it?

Logan Plant of Beavertown proud
with his newly canned Gamma Ray
Canned beers have long been associated with mass-market, "stack-em high, sell 'em cheap" beers and often have connotations of low quality, metallic tasting beverages for cheap home drinking only. Yet 2014 saw the installation of canning lines at some of the UK's foremost craft brewers (Camden Town, Fourpure and Beavertown) with Roosters online in 2015 and Magic Rock Following hot on their heels with a line ordered for the new brewery. Brewdog are also moving their canning in house. So what's changed people's perceptions?

Craft beer in America has seen the can treatment for more than decade, with Oskar Blues leading the charge in 2002 and many other breweries following suit in the years since. The confusingly named Cask Brewing Systems (the supplier of most of the new UK systems) started off supplying brew kits to customers in Canada. They saw an opportunity to help brewers in the US differentiate themselves from competitors in the oversupply crisis of the late 90s and came up with the canning solution:
"These brewers were looking for creative and economical ways to increase sales“and we’ve always prided ourselves in finding solutions for our customers.  We knew that consumers were ready for cans if someone would just provide that option. So our solution for struggling brewers was to help them utilize the aluminum[sic ;)] can.” Peter Love, Founder

Cask have been there since the beginning and have done a lot of the ground work (along with the brave breweries who took the canning plunge!) debunking the canning myths and much hostility from established brewers who offered only bottled product. In the first year, Oskar Blues' (later at cask) employee in charge of can promotion (Marty Jones) even received a letter stating “I look forward to the day your company fails for attempting such a ridiculous idea.” charming!

Once these myths were put to bed however; any rational person could see that canned beer had numerous advantages over bottled beer and often preferable to draught dispense methods.The obvious one is that obviously cans are lighter than bottles; so not only easier to lug around once you've bought them, but cheaper to transport from brewery to stores. This also makes them more environmentally friendly and the life-cycle of aluminium from ground through smelting to finished product and numerous recyclings is less carbon intensive than glass manufacture.
Once you've got the can's home its easier to get them in the fridge and they cool more quickly. Its easier to drink them surreptitiously and you can take them to places where glass is banned (sports events and festivals).
In addition to this the beer actually tastes better, well all know about light strike, the process by which UV light reacts with hop compounds in bottled beers to produce a "skunky" aroma and taste. Yes, brown bottles slow down the process but canned beers eliminate this completely. Another less well appreciated issue is oxygen pick-up in the packaging process, often lead to a stale or papery tasting beer. Oxygen can also get in through bottle-caps but again cans are impervious. Modern canning lines can limit oxygen pickup to as little as 15-20ppb (that's parts per billion!). (For comparison purposes Brewdog's dissolved oxygen with all of their fancy kit is usually in the range 25-40ppb)*
Aesthetically cans look better too; giving the brewers more space to play with for eye catching visuals and they stack well creating a pleasing display in shops.

But I didn't start the post to expound the benefits of canning, I'm sure most of you know them already. No, today's post is to bring you news that the first Irish canning line has now been installed and will soon be producing beer with all of the above benefits for us to buy in the shops! From their inauspicious start Cask have gone on to work with hundreds of breweries and canned beer sales have grown in the US by >80% in the past year (whilst bottle sales grew by a mere 16%); no wonder the Irish breweries want a piece of the action!

"So who is it?!" I hear you cry; well those who have been paying attention to the Twitter sphere will already know but those of you who haven't the brewery is Metalman. As first adopters they'll have their work cut out but there are plenty of decent off-licences in the country that will stock them. Indeed the last few months of 2014 saw the arrival of some of the aforementioned UK brewers' products for sale over here. Look out for Camden Town IHL, Beavertown Gamma Ray and Fourpure Pils for three must-stock Fridge Beers

Cans being printed
 The fact that they produce decent beer (and unavailable until now in takeaway packaging) will of course see them through without any teething problems. As I type this Gráinne, Tim and the team are seeing their can designs produced in Wakefield ready to fill in to at the end of the month.

For those of the more geeky inclination, the ACS model Metalman have chosen can can 30 cans per minute. That's 1800 an hour, or the best part of 5000litres in an 8 hour day; so there should be plenty to go around if they already stretched brewery capacity can keep up! Until recently Metalman brewed on the rescued kit of one of the early microbrewing pioneers in Ireland, Biddy Early, who unfortunately were ahead of their time. This investment should help Metalman to remain a fixture in the Irish beer scene for a long time yet. Their machine also has a small footprint meaning its not eating into space required for an expanding battalion of fermenters!
(L2R:Dave Fitzgerald, Grainne Walsh, Wayne Jacques,
Tim Barber, Adam Doyle, Jacqui Kelleher.)
The first beers will be shipped on February 1st,  I for one am looking forward to buying a case!

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*In itself a massive improvement on their 100ppb plus dissolved oxygen content at their previous brew house.


  1. "[sic ;)]" Haha! Spot the chemist!

    Streeeectly speaking Metalman has already been available in takeaway packaging via the growler system a couple of Dublin off licences now have. It'll be a lot more portable now though.

    1. I'm loathe to admit that aluminum actually follows the convention of ore+um, e.g. magnesia-->magnesium but of course the counterargument is that all the other metals end ium and it just sounds more pleasant....

      Yes growlers help a few people but i suppose anyone could have got a pint in a pub and decanted into a bottle before that anyway ;). Being able to buy by mail order will be a big plus.

    2. Logic. Pffft. What's logic ever done for science?