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?