Before you panic and stop reading, don’t worry, I’m not about to subject you to a treatise on 70’s female led, leather clad glam rock, nor the experimental Krautrock pioneers CAN, I’m here to talk beer.
Craft beer, however you choose to define it, is the fastest growing sector in the drinks industry by a long chalk. Like many young industries, it is trying to find where it fits in and what image it should have. This is partly going to be dictated by the scene over in the US, the very term ‘craft beer’ is one we have inherited and you can’t take on a term without it having some attached baggage. The facially hirsute, skinny jeaned, check shirted, Pacific Northwest dwelling hipster has been the face of the craft beer movement in the US for quite some time now. Walk into every other railway arch on Druid Street in London and you’ll see the same bearded trendies straining heavily hopped pale ale through their exquisitely fashioned facial follicles.
Without wanting to go too far into hateful marketing speak and generalisation, the average craft beer drinker in this country is a degree educated, 20-40 year old who earns slightly better than average money and understands provenance of the food and drink they consume. Whilst there is room for growth, broadly speaking, the industry has found it’s drinkers. With many of the newer start up breweries shunning cask and producing only bottled or keg beer, they set themselves apart from the old, sometimes stuffy family brewers producing traditional cask beer. It gives a point of difference. For most people aged 20-40 kegged beer doesn’t have the stigma attached that it does with the generation before that who remember Watney’s etc. When CAMRA started the ball rolling, using casks was as revolutionary for that generation of drinkers as using keg is for mine.
Equally, interesting bottled beer gives places unable or unlikely to take draught beer like fine dining restaurants and hotels an opportunity to put as much care and attention into having local, high quality beers on their drinks list. It is frustrating when a good restaurant with a huge wine list, well sourced menu, cooked by skilled chefs, has shit, lowest common denominator beer on their menus. Craft beer should fill this gap in the market.
The issue here is that beer has been put in bottled for an awful long time. A lot of terrible beer is put in bottles as is quite a lot of good beer. Bottles are pretty stable, strong and handled in the right way, pretty good at preserving beer quality which is why their use is so widespread. How can the person interested in trying some of this new-fangled craft beer differentiate between what went before and what is now, especially as craft beer is no longer the preserve of specialist beer shops but is available in supermarkets? Brands have tried hard with cool, edgy labels like Brewdog and Camden have, but this on its own might not be enough.
This is where the can steps in. Forget for a minute the purported improvement in beer quality it provides. A 330ml can is pretty much the sole preserve of the soft drinks industry whereas the 500ml is the workhorse of the canned beer industry. A 330ml can has less association with crap, bland mass produced beer. Breweries producing keg and can have a distinct USP over other breweries is the nub of it. On a more practical level canned beer also takes up less space in fridges, chills down quicker, is lighter to ship, removes the possibility of lightstrike and (although I have doubts about small scale canning) lessens oxidation. In London alone Camden, Beavertown, Fourpure all can their beer with Weird Beard soon to start as well. It might be a bit of a case that cans are the emperor’s new clothes, but if it helps as a signifier of craft for some people and, in turn grows the market further I don’t see how it does anything but good.
Also, not that I condone it, but for the most part, people won’t realise you are drinking beer out of a 330ml can and it is entirely possible to mooch through Camden, along the canal on a sunny midsummer day with a friend, each with a cold can of Beavertown’s Gamma Ray in hand and not have any trouble over it. This is a great joy.