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How Cans turned Craft into Crass

I said I wouldn't write about it but you made me do it.

I’m in the York Tap pre-midday on a Saturday. I’ve had a lovely evening in York but it’s time for me to get the train to Huddersfield for today’s home football match versus Fulham. I’m used to travelling to the home games via train, albeit usually the shorter journey from Stalybridge. Having time to sup a couple of beers in this great station pub in a different city before I embark on my journey is a nice novelty. But soon it will be time for the train so I can make my fortnightly trip to The Grove for pre-match beers. And I’ll be thirsty on the train. It comes in less than ten minutes. Will there be time to queue for a takeaway coffee for the journey or shall I just nip into the newsagents for a bottle of water instead?

I won’t get a beer for the train. I never do. Or at least, I never did. Match days usually begin at Stalybridge Buffet Bar, but I'm never tempted to take one of the bottles from the fridge for the train. Bottles deserve attention. Mine need to be poured into a nice glass. The aroma and taste of each gulp needs to be savoured and critiqued. It’s my preference, but the train journey on match day was always the time for a sugared drink or coffee to make sure I last the day.

Now there are cans. I look over the bar of the York Tap, whilst pondering coffee or water, and see a fridge full of various cans looking at me. Colourful, enticing and flavoursome canned beer. I have now chosen between coffee and water. I choose: Baby Faced Assassin.

I find a table on the train opposite a stranger and open the can I've just purchased. I take my first sip and enjoy that now familiar juiciness, gentle bitterness and incredible smoothness. This is such a drinkable beer I now buy regularly and that first sip reminds me why. And after that initial taste... it’s forgotten. I’m passing the time on the train reading Twitter, arguing on Facebook, checking the Grove’s beer board for the day, reading the team news ahead of the game, sending silly snapchats and generally letting my mind do its own thing. By the time my train pulls into Huddersfield, the Baby Faced Assassin can is empty. I’m sure I enjoyed it, but I don’t really remember anything after that first taste. It was just a beer there for the sake of having a beer.

I've not wanted to join in any discussion on cans, having stated how tiresome that is. Yet, I looked down at that empty can at that point and realised how, as much as I’ve tried to deny that putting beer in one of these little tins isn’t a big deal, putting beer in one of these little tins might just be a big deal. Not for light refraction, oxidisation, metallic tastes, freshness or any other part of the discussion that I hate, but for my attitudes to drinking. With cans I’ve stopped savouring as much.

“Tinnies” are for away match days – those with a group of mates on a 2 hour train journey with one person in charge of the plastic carrier bag of shame. They are for race days, birthdays, the stag/hen dos that dictate one must drink a can on the train on the way to the eventual destination. They are for the unexpected Summer afternoons in your mate's back garden where they offer you a beer in the sun and all they have is something so cold and tasteless you can only assume it's liquid nitrogen and that you'll die there in the garden. That was the perception, until the crafterati decided that cans were the new pornography.

I’ve said before how I dream of a day where a brewery releases its beers in cans for the first time and there isn’t a gratuitous Twitter frenzy worked up where people admit they’ve masturbated five times that morning because a beer that more often than not has already been available for 12 months is now going to be a million times better because its changing vessel. I’d like to think such a day will come. I fear it shall not for many a year.

Instead, for every barbecue this year I’ll spend the same I would have done on a 20 pack of Carling for two pop-sized cans of “Craft” (One can of Baby Faced Assassin is priced at the rather remarkable £5 in York Tap) so I can continue enjoying one sip of freshness before downing the can and wishing I’d bought more beer.

More breweries will release cans. We’ll buy them all and hail how much better they are than their bottled versions. We’ll keep justifying all the brewing reasons for canning beers and pretending that the breweries haven’t realised that beers that weren’t selling so well in bottles are selling out in minutes in tins. I mean, how many of you were frequently buying Rooster’s in bottles? Honestly? I know I wasn’t…

I’m on a stag do next month and when the best man starts handing out the inevitable cans of Foster’s at 8.30am on the train journey there I’ll hold my hands up and say, “It’s okay, pal, I’ve brought my own four pack of Gamma Ray for this journey. I can’t afford the rest of the weekend now – or my rent - but I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this train ride.” And I can laugh, joke and mock because I know that’s exactly what will happen. 

Is this the next stage of the beer revolution? Is it to stop intellectualising and glorifying the beer? Is this what some are calling “post-craft?” Have we finally reached the stage where good beer is so common place and accessible we can down it like 15-year-olds with their first bottle of Grolsch?

MagicRock will be releasing their beer in cans in the Summer. For most, there is a countdown of excitement to this moment but I’m already dreading the Twitter Mardi Gras that will accompany their release. The first relief of cans will sell out within minutes, every blogger in the country will write discussing how they are the greatest beers of all time, the cask versions will never sell again as people look to the fridges, kid drinkers will ask about the “American cans” they’ve seen in specialist beer shops – and at that time I think I’ll sit in a ditch in the local park downing cans of Black Betty, Bibble, Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja and Baby Faced Assassin, the then forgotten poster children of the can world, tossing the empty aluminium into a nearby stream, shouting at passing Canadian Geese and never caring about the quality of the hops used, just as the post-craft world intended. The future is crass.

I can not wait. 

P.S. I also recently procured a can of Camden's IHL for the first time. Meh... it's decent enough


An enjoyable read, you really conveyed your angst about the rise of the can. For the record, I'm a fan of cans. I rarely order beer online, living where I do great beer is pretty accessible, and cans make a heavy load that little bit lighter. I agree there's an almost evangelical fervour when it comes to cans, but it's not limited to cans - think annual releases such as Unhuman Cannonball etc.

I don't think cans are making beer crass, because I don't think every single beer consumed needs to be deconstructed. I may not take tasting notes when drinking a 8 Ball on the train, but my journey is still enhanced in a way it wouldn't otherwise have been, and whether or not it's in my mind I have found canned beers to be especially fresh.

Finally I agree £5 is expensive for a 330ml can of beer, but that's down to where you bought it. My local off licence has cans of Gamma for £2.40, which I think is a steal.
Unknown said…
PETER IF YOU BUY 24 IT WORKS OUT AT £1.95 A CAN (Peter and I happen to frequent the same off license because he lives around the corner from me)

Great piece, I've really taken to the rise of the can - I've always enjoyed a sneaky drink on public transport and these have re-enabled that privilege since Boris decided to take it away from us, or at least try to. I will have to stuggle cuddle you next time I see you for THAT IHL review. Though you're entitled to your opinion even when it is WRONG ;)
Is that Bottle Apostle, Oddbins or both? Like you I also like to imbibe in transit, and I have convinced myself doing so is a refutation of all things Boris.
Unknown said…
Usually Apostle these days - they do 15% off a case.

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