By Jason Notte
Don't buy your beer cans this summer based by the size of their mouths, the cold-activated decals on their labels or the hole in their tops that lets you chug like it's pledge week.
Buy them because there's fresh, untainted, enjoyable beer inside.
The can has been part of the American beer drinking experience since 1935, when Gottfried Kruger Brewing in Newark, N.J., rolled out the first packs of metal-clad suds. For much of the 20th century, they were big brewers' calling cards and are still commonly associated with the suitcases and 30 packs of Bud, Miller and Coors produced by Anheuser-Busch InBev and MolsonCoors.
The upside is that cans seal out more light and ultraviolet radiation than brown bottles and are lighter and easy to recycle than glass. The downside is that drinkers still associate cans with yellowish light lager and a harsh metallic taste. Even though canned beer variety has increased dramatically since Oskar Blues started canning Dale's Pale Ale in 2002, it's still tough to convince older drinkers that cans lined with water-based polymer won't taste like freshly licked tin foil.
Craft beer drinkers have been increasingly willing to give cans a try in recent years, however. The number of craft brewers canning brews increased from 130 last summer to more than 200 canning nearly 600 different beers this year, according to the folks at CraftCans.com.
That's a whole lot of beer to fit in your summer cooler and a broad spectrum between the lemony, Miller-produced Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and flat-top Chuchkey beer packed with its own opener and backed by Entourage actor Adrian Grenier. To narrow it down a bit, we've checked in with CraftCans and selected 10 of the best canned craft brews to put on ice during the warm months:
Perhaps the best example of what canned beer has come to in the past couple of years is an aluminum-encased serving of hoppy, high-octane India Pale Ale. Folks accustomed to mild, easy drinking cans of light lager should approach 16-ounce tallboys of Torpedo with caution. They're as bitter and citrusy as a mouthful of fresh hops, while the 7.2% alcohol content is nearly double what you might find in that red, white and blue can in your neighbor's cooler.
Once you've enjoyed a can of Torpedo, you've primed the palate for something with significantly more kick. Though it calls Waterbury, Vt., home, Alchemist has no problem producing a 16-ounce can of West Coast Style 8% ABV double IPA. Just how bitter is this beer? Beer bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units that usually top out at 100. Alchemist claims 120 IBUs for Heady Topper. Good luck unpuckering.
As great as a citrusy IPA can be on a warm summer's day, a mild brown ale can be just as inviting. Moose Drool out of Missoula, Mont., has a little more kick than a light lager at 5.2% ABV, but is so malty, caramel flavored and lightly carbonated that having more than one isn't out of the question. Considering this is one of the best brown ales made in the U.S. and cans of brown ale are still fairly scarce, it's worth considering if you come across it in your area.
Do you really like hoppy pale ales but also like walking around and conducting cogent conversations an hour after having a couple? An American Pale Ale and its lower alcohol content is your answer, and few as fruity and pungent as Daisy Cutter are available in cans. Don't be intimidated by the tall, 16-ounce package: Daisy Cutter goes down easy, with very little kick. Folks in the Chicagoland area with easy access to these silver beauties should consider themselves fortunate to enjoy what is possibly the perfect summer can of beer.
It's not easy to pick a favorite from Brooklyn-based Sixpoint's family of canned brews, but this red, hoppy cream ale is just about the best this brewery has to offer. Cream ale can conjure a lot of bad memories if your last taste of it came from a cheap case of cans found at the cash and carry, but Sweet Action tastes more like a hoppy pale ale with the subtlety of a low-alcohol Belgian farmhouse beer. At 5.2% ABV, 16-ounce cans of Sweet Action are well suited to summer sipping.