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Can-ditioning?

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A little question has been stuck in my head for the past few days: Is it possible to condition a canned beer? By condition, I mean “bottle condition,” where beer is sealed with live yeast and sugars—the result produces carbon dioxide, and a number of other protective effects. Remember that sludge at the bottom of your favorite Belgian beer? That’s a true sign of bottle conditioning. I didn’t see any reason why one couldn’t do the same in a can (though, maybe the physics would prove too extreme for even extreme canned beers). Enter Dave Chichura, headbrewer at can-centric Oskar Blues, who had a few thoughts on the matter. Oskar Blues doesn’t can condition, but that’s not because it isn’t possible.

According to Chichura, there isn’t much difference between conditioning in a can or bottle, in terms of challenges. If you over-carbonate a bottle, there’s a good chance it will explode. If you over-carbonate a can, it will “probably blow out the dome on the can bottom, or possibly cause the opening score to break,” he noted. So, glass shrapnel vs. aluminum shrapnel. Sounds like a tie. Chichura also reminded me about the obvious problem of under-carbonating: “There’s no reasonable way to re-prime a can or bottle of beer to achieve proper carbonation.” Both also require a decent amount of valuable brewery floor space. So far, even-Steven. But wait…

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two—and this may or may not be striking at all depending on who’s drinking the beer—is the inability to see the lees at the bottom of the can (that sludgelike yeast deposit). It would be nearly impossible to maneuver a proper pour without sending that stuff into your glass. Of course, if you didn’t know the beer was can-conditioned in the first place, that last ounce of goop sliding into your pint might cause a bit of unwelcome confusion.

What do you think? Yes to can conditioning, or enough with the cans already?

 

Author
Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.

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22 Comments

  • Ron says:

    Not a fan of canned beer… never have been. Don’t like tinny beer.

  • Tim Nichols says:

    Cans are basically mini-kegs, so why not can condition? The day brewers stop pushing the limits of what can be done with beer, is the day craft beer culture starts to stagnate. More cans!!

  • joeb says:

    fat tire can conditions and I’ve never had a bad experience with them

  • Chris says:

    @Ron: The tinny-ness that you think you’re tasting in canned beer is not from the can. ALL cans that you would drink from nowadays are all lined with a protective coating, so no aluminum actually touches the beer.

    Not sure what you mean by “tinny beer”, in this case.

  • Gateway Beers says:

    To Ron – pour a good craft can of beer (i.e. Oskar Blues or similar) into a glass, and you’ll never know it was from a can. They’re all protectively lined these days to prevent any tinny flavors.

  • Peter Kelly says:

    I am all for the idea. You can’t have enough creativity with cans these days. Fears of “tinny beers” are alleviated with today’s lining technology and they’re the environmental choice. Plus how much of a pain is it to lug around a sixer of bottles over cans? I say bring it on. Half-Acre here in Chicago is doing brilliant work with cans.

  • Jim M says:

    I frequently enjoy Far Tire and have noticed a slight variance between the kegged version and the can conditioned beer. A Very slight variance. Many breweries are going to cans so I am sure more will adopt the can conditioning ultimately we will have to adjust. I’m OK with it personally. Something I’m sure BUDWEISER or COORS will copy in a line of their own.

  • Jim M says:

    But now where are the homebrewers going to get their bottles?

  • Jeremy says:

    Personally, I’ve always hated cans. However, you would effectively eliminate the possibility of skunking using cans. If you use cans, you should warn the drinker if the beer is filtered or not. Also, canned beer chills faster, so another plus for cans I guess.

  • Jeremy says:

    Jim, I guess we’ll just have to suck it right out of the fermenter! I have a conical with a racking port, and when my supply is low I end up drinking half of it that way. Uncarbonated, but still damn good.

  • Greg M says:

    As a brewer who puts beer in cans, I have many thoughts. We currently do not can-condition but have plans to start. The downfall of the can is that it is not able to hold pressures like a bottle with a cork/cage closure. The current aluminum can would likely explode or turn into a football with champagne-like CO2 pressures.

  • Jeremy says:

    I agree with that Greg. I’ve had problems with pressure when not using cork/cage closures, but champagne yeast conditioning is a rare breed that should probably be reserved for bottles anyway, both for conditioning stability as well as presentation, don’t you think? I’d have a real hard time with conditioning the likes of Samichlaus, Chimay or Gulden Draak in a can, let alone a big beer like Utopias with it’s uber-stylish boiler bottle. I agree that cans are better environmentally, but as a consumer, actual beverage contents aside, I still view bottles as a symbol of quality over cans, which might be a marketing factor to consider when trying to sell more expensive craft beers.

  • Jeff says:

    @ Ron, I used to think the same about canned beer. It is just because of the beer that is in the can is not good. Bud doesn’t taste good in any situation (can, or bottle). Now that craft beer is in a can I do not feel cans are a problem at all. Honestly Craft Beer is better in a can then bottle because most craft beer is not pasteurized but when you find a lot of it in the store it is sitting out warm. Cans are better in that case.

  • Jeff says:

    @ Jim, You should try keging your homebrew. Takes let time/ work and the clarity goes way up. Also then your wife won’t see how many you drank. No evidence left behind.

  • Jeremy says:

    So, to sum up my opinion, to me cans say cheap and disposable, whereas bottles say quality and savoring, much like a good wine. You likely won’t catch me buying an expensive beer in a can unless there is absolutely no alternative. If fact, I will probably willingly pay more for the bottle version of the exact same product. Just my opinion.

  • Jeremy says:

    Jeff, I’ve thought about switching to kegging instead of bottling. The one question I had was do you have to keep the kegs themselves cold, or can you just run the beer line through a cold plate? When kegging, you don’t need to carbonate, right, just use the CO2 bottle? That would save some time waiting on carbonation!

  • foobrew says:

    Recently had a properly aged (3 years) can of Ten Fidy. It was phenomenal. It’s not can-conditioned but I thought it was still worth mentioning that canned beer can age every bit as well as bottles “can.”

  • Jim M says:

    @Jeff – I am so buying a keg conversion kit for my chest freezer and love the idea of hiding the evidence! Thanks and brew on!

  • Jeremy says:

    foobrew, that is good to know. Maybe I’ll give cans a chance next time I’m at the store.

  • Rodger says:

    You’d pay more for a bottle even if it tasted exactly the same. You care that much about how your image and how you’re perceived? That’s pretty hilarious.

    Rodenbach tasted great in the cans I bought in Belgium.

  • Brendan says:

    Doesn’t Maui Brewing Co “can-dition” their Big Swell IPA???

  • John says:

    I googled CAN CONDITIONED BEER because I am drinking a SIERRA NEVADA, PALE ALE…in a can. Next thing will be, pale ale…on a stick.
    I saw it in the store and I had to try it.

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