Wednesday, February 18, 2015

beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column
on cbc radio one's on the coast with stephen quinn:


2015 marks the 80th anniversary of the beer can.  Beer cans have survived market ups and downs, and waxing and waning popularity for 80 years now.  Now they are experiencing a boom along with craft beer.
Although macro breweries, which use a lot of cans, are experiencing a decline in market share more craft brewers are embracing the can as an economical and advantageous way of packaging beer for the public.
While it is always preferable to drink fresh beer, that is not always possible.  Bottling has been around for much longer than canning and is often thought of as the best way to package beer.  There’s a sort of snobbery around bottles – that somehow they are a classier way to package beverages.  From a craft beer stand point you shouldn’t be drinking the beer out of a can or a bottle, you should be pouring it into a clean glass so that you can fully enjoy the beer drinking experience – you can see the clarity and colour of the beer, pouring it into a glass releases some of the CO2 and a lot of the aroma, and drinking from a glass enables your nose as well as your mouth to appreciate the beer.  So from that standpoint alone bottles and cans are on equal footing as packaging. 

Cans, however, have a couple of advantages over bottles:  they weigh less so they are less of a stress on the environment to ship; they’re compact so breweries can ship 100 cases of cans per pallet as compared to 60 cases of bottles; cans protect their contents from light, so there won’t be any skunky beer coming out of a can; beer cans are air-tight when sealed, so the beer stays fresh longer; there’s more room on a can for artwork; cans cool down faster bottles, so they take less time and energy to chill.  Not to mention that cans are safer poolside than a bottle, and easier to pack in and out when hiking and camping!
Choosing to can rather than bottle can also be a way for craft breweries to save on space and initial money outlay as there are mobile canning companies who will come to your brewery with their canning line and package your beer.

Numbers-wise there are over 475 American craft breweries canning over 1800 different beers, covering over 95 different styles of beer.
So why haven't cans always been popular?
Probably because in the past cans imparted a bit of a tinny flavour to beer.  That was the biggest complaint people had about beer in cans.  The cans of today are coated inside with a water-based epoxy barrier so that there is no metallic taste transfer.  Once that beer is poured into a glass, there’s no way to tell if it came from a bottle or a can.  So any remaining complaints about tinny flavour are just in people's heads!  (Also note that kegged beer is stored in metal kegs, but you don’t hear people saying draft beer tastes metallic – thanks Joe Wiebe for pointing that one out!)

In 2013 the Boston Beer company started putting their Sam Adams brand of beers in specially designed cans.  They spent a million dollars designing and implementing their can to offer a proper craft beer drinking experience if you choose to drink directly from the can rather than pouring into a glass:  it is ergonomically designed to deliver aroma to the nose and beer to the front of the palate to “maximize the early enjoyment of the malt sweetness”, and requires less head tilting to drain the can.
Okay, so cans are every bit as good as bottles, possibly better, but isn’t social media calling for a boycott of beer in cans?

Yup, workers at a Crown Holdings canning plant in Ontario have been on strike since September 6, 2013.  They're calling on beer drinkers to boycott beer sold in cans made by Crown.  Some people have misinterpreted this call to arms as being a boycott of all beer sold in cans.
As a craft beer lover I would like to emphasize that the striking workers are asking for your support in not drinking beer from cans made by Crown Holdings. They aren’t suggesting that cans are not a good vessel for beer, or that all cans should be boycotted.
If you would like to support the workers, please look at the can you’re about to purchase, if it has a pictogram of a crown near the UPC symbol, then it was made by Crown Holdings and is one of the cans to be avoided. These include beers sold by Molson, Labatt and Heineken. They also include non-beer products sold by Nestle, Pepsi and Heinz.

In Ontario most macro and craft brewers are using Crown cans.  Mill Street Brewing is an exception to that rule, they use cans produced by Crown’s competition, Ball.  (Also, since July 2013 Steamwhistle has used cans produced by Crown Holdings’ Calgary plant, not the striking Weston plant).  
I am compiling a list of BC breweries' can providers.  To date I have confirmation that the following do NOT use Crown cans:
Parallel 49
Central City
Fernie Brewing

Phillips Brewing
I will update this list as responses trickle in!
 
Beer Picks:
My beer picks for this week come in... wait for it... cans! 
1. Parallel 49 Craft Lager: a craft brewed lager in a distinctive can with the EastVan cross on it.
2. Fernie Brewing Fresh Trax Brown Ale: chocolate and nutty malts in a smooth brown ale. 
3. Central City Red Racer IPA: revisit the beer that started the IPA stampede in BC, still hoptastic!

For more reading on beer cans: www.craftcans.com

More on the Crown Holdings strike:
On September 6, 2013 the workers at a Crown Holdings canning plant in Weston, a north Toronto neighbourhood went on strike (USW local 9176).  They are still on strike today, over 17 months later, with no end in sight.  Crown wants to cut wages and put a 5 year freeze on the pension plan.  The workers voted 117-1 against the cuts.  Crown has since said that even if the union accepts the offer, they are only prepared to allow 26 of the approximately 120 striking workers back.  The remaining workforce would be supplied by the workers currently crossing the picket line to work at Crown.   The USW filed an unfair labour practice complaint on September 5, 2014, charging that Crown is violating its duty to bargain in good faith by making unreasonable offers to avoid reaching an agreement. 
Crown Holdings is an American multinational company that is the largest metal food packaging company in the world, with 147 plants worldwide.  Crown Holdings customers include Molson, Labatt, Nestle, Pepsi, Heineken and Heinz.

The Weston plant produces about 5.5 million aluminum beer cans every day.  The cans are used mainly in the US and the Maritimes.
The striking workers leafleted Beer Stores across Ontario asking beer drinkers to buy bottles instead of the cans produced at the Weston plant. 

Labour organizers would like people to support the striking workers by sending a letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, by drinking beer from bottles instead of cans and by boycotting Carnival Cruises (Carnival CEO Arnold Donald is a director of Crown Holdings).

For more reading on the strike:
Toronto Star article of February 2nd 




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