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!

Tweet them

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


Time to reflect

January is typically a time for reflection looking back on the previous year and looking forward to the year to come. That is after all why the month was named after the Roman god with two faces, Janus!
And what an apt post to do it on too, number 300 - I don't think I even dreamed I'd hit 300 posts when I started this blog 3 1/2 years ago! 2014 saw a slowdown in the number of posts due to the usual excuses (lethargy, apathy and procrastination) but will endeavour to be a little more frequent in 2015.
Despite the lack of blogging the beer sampling has still continued apace with over 1100 (new to me) beers sampled. I made great headway with sampling the wide array of beer Ireland has to offer, we may not yet have the depth and breadth of the UK but we have a bigger proportion of exciting brewers with even more planned for 2015. See my roundup of new openings and my Irish Golden Pints plus Irish beers to look out for posts.
The UK too has been no slouch, with so many decent brewers now available, I'm largely content to just drink our own countries' outputs rather than searching further afield. After all its usually fresher, cheaper and more interesting than most of the US stuff we can get over here. That's not going to stop me sampling stuff when I see it on keg, or coveting other people's beers when they're travelling but the UK can now proudly offer up brews to compete with the best of the US (as my Golden pints should attest).
So enough looking back, what does 2015 have in store? Well plenty more brewery openings of course, both here and across the UK as a whole will mean even more beers to sample with some other established breweries pushing into the limelight. Hopefully this will be the year that I finally get to Indy Man Brew Con and I'd love to go back and work at GBBF after a number of years off. I of course fully intend to get to the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival again too.
One of the highlights of the year will without a doubt be the Beer Bloggers Conference (which is in Brussels this year). With a number of pre and post conference excursions the weekend will be extended to almost a full week of beery education and frivolities. There's still time to book, hopefully see you there! Whilst on the subject of beery excursions Zephyr (The team behind the beer bloggers conference) are now also organising taste vacations, if you like good food, good drinks and travelling (and lets face it who doesn't?!) you can book a bespoke tour with them. Dislaimer: if you book through my affiliate link I get some monies!
300 posts in is also an excellent point to refocus the blog on beer and cider, especially on the island of Ireland which leads on to the launch of Our new blog (yes, Daisy is going to be writing too!)...drumroll please...DRINKS WE'VE KNOWN. Original eh? So expect to find whisky, rum, cocktails and perhaps even non-alcoholic beverage goings on at the other place. I'll try not to cross post too much, but if these things interest you please give us a follow.
That's all for now folks, thanks for sticking with me in 2014, all the best for 2015 and hope to see you all soon.


Ones to Watch 2015

From Commence
So how did my predictions made at the start of the year fare?
Partizan is now well established on the Bermondsey mile and continues to pump out beers apace including some more interesting variants. Pressure Drop too continue to produce solid beers, but seem to have been less visible this year. One brewery that has been growing is Brew By Numbers, who (with the support of Brewdog) have increased their capacity, begun releasing barrel aged beers and featuring in many people's Golden Pints this year.

Wiper and True have continued to impress and are beginning to be seen out and about but are still relatively small. Tiny Rebel and Celt between them are now the best regarded brewers in Wales, with Celt continuing to produce plenty of interesting collaborations.

Top Out are another brewery who are continuing solidly but (aside from featuring in a Beers 52 selection box) have been fairly quiet. The Hanging Bat certainly seem to be producing some beers, with a slew of collaborations appearing but no facilities built as far as I'm aware!

Kinsale and Brown Paper Bag both continued to excel this year and I look forward to more from them. Farmageddon make interesting beers but some have been affected at the packaging stage. The Gold on cask at Belfast Beer Festival was excellent however. Red Hand has been fairly quiet, struggling on with their pilot kit and hopefully scaling up over the next year or so.

So that's the review of 2014 predictions (a mixed bag perhaps?) "What are your tips for 2015?!" (aside from Golden Pints) I hear you ask, well read on dear readers!

If you've been paying attention you'll know I expect big things from Boundary (I am now a part-owner after all!) with plenty of collaborations and specials already on the cards. I'm also looking forward to Belfast Brewing, helmed by the North's only Brewster,Alex (Hilden excepted, which Ann has been Brewstering at since the start, though I think Owen now does most of the day to day brewing!) Alex's beers impressed in the samples I picked up earlier this year; so look forward to seeing how they pan out when made on a bigger scale!

Moving south of the border Chris at Galway Bay has had a fantastic 2014 so expect 2015 to be the year they finally break out of Ireland and perhaps set up a bar in Belfast (please?!) and have some spare beer to send to thirsty beer drinkers across the water (either direction!). Metalman have just installed a canning line (the first in Ireland!) so looking forward to trying their excellent pale in this format. (previously only available on draught).

 See also my Irish Golden Pints, Brews to watch out for and summary of 2014 brewery openings

Moving across to the mainland Burning Sky is another brewery that has had an excellent year (sneaking into my top five at the last minute with the tasty saison l'Ete). Mark formerly brewed at Dark Star and was recognised by the British Guild of Beer Writers this year; so grab the beer when you get a chance! I'm yet to find one I've not enjoyed.

Northern Alchemy really impressed on a recent trip to Newcastle, bringing interesting ingredient additions to conventional styles, the beers are solid and interesting, good stuff! Look out for their chocolate and mint saison plus their excellent hopped pilsner.

Elusive brewing should hopefully hit its stride in 2015. Helmed by Andy Parker (@tabamatu) (winner of 2014 Craft Beer Co home brew competition) you can expect lots of hop forward pales, Belgian ales and experimental weirdness if his previous releases and home brew blogs are anything to go by!

Aside from those above pretty much anything from Buxton, Siren, Wild Beer Co, Beavertown, Partizan, Brew By Numbers, Marble, Hawkshead, Magic Rock, Tiny Rebel, Wiper & True, Redchurch, Pressure Drop & The Kernel will see you in good stead.

No suggestions for Scotland this year I'm afraid, I've not had a chance to visit since January but Stewart, Fyne, Tempest and Pilot all continue to impress, seek them out!