When it comes to lagers, ales and all sorts of craft beer wizardry, the snowy state of Colorado tends to lead the way. The state tops the nation in beer production per capita, spread out over nearly 150 breweries, with four of those standing tall in the top 50 breweries in the nation. Yet perhaps their most indelible mark so far has been the resurgence of craft beer canning.
Of course, Colorado didn't do it all by themselves. While the Oskar Blues Brewery north of Denver began canning their craft concoctions in earnest around 2002, it didn't take long for breweries right here in the Golden State to follow suit. California - which, surprise surprise, leads the nation in total breweries per state - soon had 21st Amendment Brewery to thank for canning on the Left Coast. This was back in 2006, well before the title wave of aluminum adoration we're currently in the midst of. So why cans? And why now?
To answer the first question, it's important to understand beer as an essentially unstable product. Even without active yeast inside each bottle, there are plenty of factors that can affect a bottled beer. Sunlight, even in brown bottles, can break down key components of the hops in beer, turning them from fresh and tasty to downright skunky and flat. Bottle tops slowly leach oxygen over time, further flattening the taste. Not to mention the heavy, breakable nature of the glass it's all stored in. Cans, conversely, are lightweight, fully sealed, and offer none of the light pollution that so often affects bottled brews.
So why now? It's a matter of technology, mostly, plus wholesaling costs, distribution issues and a raised awareness of craft brewing in general. For L.A. suds-lebrities Tony Yanow and Meg Gill, the option of canning Golden Road Brewing's many brews has always been important, but the timing had to be right. Instead of needing to order two million cans, wholesale, from one of the few can manufacturers in America, it was only recently that Yanow, Gill and the rest of the craft brew world could buy from intermediaries who sold off the two million cans a few hundred thousand at a time to breweries across the US. Additionally, the pair spent plenty of time working on the can's look and feel, with the photo-realistic laser printing on each 16-ounce can - an honest pint, instead of the usual 12-ounce cans. The crisp images now wrapping cans of Wolf Among Weeds across Los Angeles are a testament to technology that largely didn't exist a year ago. And now that all those pieces have fallen into place for Golden Road and dozens of other breweries in California, canning has become a way of life.
While first-wave craft beer canners like Oskar Blues have no plans to turn away from the process, plenty of California breweries are embracing it wholeheartedly. Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale, perhaps the single beer most synonymous with California, can now be found stacked and canned all over Los Angeles. Long-popular brews like Boont Amber Ale from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company can now be packed into campsites all across the Angeles National Forest with half the weight of a bottled twelve pack and none of the fear of breakage. 21st Amendment, the early state adopters of craft beer culture, have expanded their already burgeoning line of cans, including the seriously tasty Bitter American. From Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz to Southern California's own Mammoth Brewing, cans are taking over the beer aisle. And all it takes is a single sip to know: that's a good thing.