The Eden Project loves beer. They asked me back to run tastings at their Harvest Festival for the 3rd year in a row and this year they wanted something a bit different. “How so?” I asked… “Well, we’d like to do something with cans,” they told me and so the Eden Project bottles v cans ‘face off’ was born.
I chose three beers available in both can and bottle, to be tasted blind, and then I’d ask the audience to vote on which they preferred. The Eden Project’s wonderful staff played along and rustled up a large wooden box to conceal the beers from the audience while they poured them.
The beers we tasted were:
- Adnams Ghost Ship (4.5%) pale ale hopped with Citra and other US varieties.
- BrewDog Punk IPA (5.6%) IPA stuffed full of hops including Chinook, Cascade, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin.
- Beavertown Smog Rocket (5.4%) smoked porter hopped with Magnum and Chinook.
Before we got down to business we talked cans. Food in cans? Nothing new. Britain had its first food canning factory in 1813. Putting beer in cans is a bit more recent. Beer cans were invented in the US in the 1930s but didn’t make it to the UK until 1935. By 1937 there were apparently 23 breweries putting beer in cans although it would be a while before ring pulls were developed (1960s/70s) making cans as popular and widespread as they are today.
Despite their prevalence – a report by canning manufacturer Can Makers says 9 billion cans were filled in the UK in 2009 and cans had a 70% share of the packaged beer market – not everyone rates cans. The chief complaint is canned beer having a metallic taste, but although brewers and can manufacturers were circumspect about revealing exactly what the lining of their cans is made of the fact remains today’s beer cans are lined so that metallic taste could well be all in the mind.
The other thing drinkers don’t like about cans is how they look. I’m sort of in this camp to be honest. Bottles are more aesthetically pleasing. Something about cans still says, ‘cheap’ to me.
But my tasting at the Eden Project was just that – all about taste rather than visual appeal of the vessel. A word on the proceedings: Although I had told my ‘pourers’ what order to pour in (meaning whether to pour can or bottle first) I had forgotten which way round they were by the time I was on stage – although I’m not claiming I was tasting 100% blind. It was concealed from the audience though.
We started with Adnams Ghost Ship. I chose this because I’d had it in can and thought it tasted good but also because it won the recent (and inaugural) Indie Beer Can competition. Sample one poured nicely and had a good head. It had an aroma of melon and passion fruit and packed a fruitily bitter hoppy punch. Sample two looked almost identical but lacked the fruity aroma and instead had a vaguely mineral fragrance to it. Its flavour was similarly subdued. The audience preferred sample one – which turned out to be: bottle. Score at the end of round one: Bottles 1 Cans 0.
Next up was BrewDog Punk IPA. Known and loved by many – whether you are friend or foe to BrewDog you may recall that Punk’ has had its moments of tasting less than great. Given the new state of the art brewery – which includes investment in the sort of high tech Quality Control Lab most brewers can only dream of – BD’s beers should be in tip top condition. Sample one, however, poured cloudily and was virtually opaque. It smelled bitter but not especially fruity and it tasted a lot like it smelled. Sample two poured crystal clear, smelled hoppy and enticing and tasted much better. The audience preferred sample two – which turned out to be: bottle. Score at the end of round two: Bottles 2 Cans 0.
Our final beer of the day was Beavertown‘s Smog Rocket. I chose it as Beavertown have a great reputation for promoting canned beer and also exhibit some colourful artwork on their cans. I selected Smog Rocket in particular because I think it’s jolly tasty and I wanted to include a dark beer. Sample one looked lovely and poured with a buff coloured head contrasting beautifully with the dark body of the beer. It had an aroma of roast coffee with a tiny hint of smoky bacon. Its gentle carbonation gave it real drinkability. It had lots of big coffee flavours with a nicely balanced bitterness and then chocolatey flavours poked through in the second and third sips. Sample two looked just as good but its carbonation was pretty aggressive and although it had the same pleasing flavours as sample one they were subdued by too much fizz. The audience preferred sample one which turned out to be: can. Final score – at the end of round three – Bottles 2 Cans 1.
I’m not claiming my little can v bottle tasting was scientifically carried out – but we tried hard to make it blind and as objective as possible. I was surprised at the result. I felt sure cans would run away with it – although some on Twitter cheered bottles’ victory. I’ll keep an open mind but I wonder whether there is work to be done on how cans are filled – rather than the vessel itself.
What are your experiences of pitching cans against bottles?