Is Brewdog Punk IPA really the first canned "Craft beer" in the UK?

The subject of dispense is one that gets a massive amount of coverage in the beer blogosphere, never more so than last week when the friday blog "Session" was pointedly requesting those in the know to flex their literary muscles and wax lyrical about can vs bottle vs cask vs keg.

So it seems fitting that Brewdog would announce on their blog the following day that Punk IPA (the new 5.6% version) would be available in cans from the 10th of February.

Let's get this out of the way nice and early. I'm all for Brewdog being available in cans, I'm all for any craft beer being made available in cans provided the flavour isn't effected. It's environmentally friendly, economically sensible, and well lets face it, they fit in the fridge better (just a light 45-60 minute chill in there mind you).

We all know that the Americans love craft in a can, infact for a lot of companies over there it is seen as the standard way to contain beer - with glass bottles becoming less used every year. Mark Dredge has openly promoted it, and Melissa of 'Taking the Beard out of Beer' is also a big fan. So what's the problem?

Unfortunetly I think this side of the pond is going to take some convincing. Generally speaking it's just the macro lagers and smooth bitters that get a canning in the UK. I'd go so far as to say the fact that decent beer generally comes in a 500ml bottle over here (Brewdog again always have to be different don't they) is important to many craft beer drinkers, it keeps things simple - tat in cans, quality in bottles, easy!

I think this is why so many people are worried about cans. They are worried the beer will change for the worse. The Beer will move to meet the can, rather than the vessle being designed to accomodate the beer.

Brewdog have, as usual, done it differently. They've used the same light filtration as they did for their bottles, and have kept the beer unpasteurised. This is hugely important, and is made 100% clear by them on their blog:

"We will be sending the beer down all ready to package, to the same very lightly filtered specification we use on our bottled and kegged beers. We will also be bypassing the pasturization part of the process meaning the beer in the can will be not pasteurized and only very lightly filtered leaving all the amazing hoppy flavour to explode out of the can at you when your crack it open!"

So is Brewdog Punk IPA the first craft beer in a can available in the UK? Zak Avery wrote a blog post ages ago (yes Zak i've been reading your musings for some time now) saying that Badger were going to put their 'craft beer' in cans. This has now happened, I've seen the cans of tanglefoot myself in Morrisons. But is it craft? Or is it just beer in a can? Is there a difference? Badger make some nice beers, and tanglefoot in a can is a decent drop. But for me it's a different beast to Punk in cans. I can't quite bring myself to call Hobgoblin, Pedigree, London Pride or Tanglefoot, which are all available canned, Craft canned beer. Even though they are all perfectly decent beers, it just doesn't feel right.

For me it comes down to the filtration and pasteurisation in the first instance, but also the quality of the beers ingredients and production methods. The high amounts of hops, high quality ingredients, minimal filtration and lack of pasteurisation all come together to make beer that is fresh tasting and full of vibrant, multi-layered flavour. Ironically, the same reasons that mean when done well cask is hard to beat.

So the question is, if they've got it to this stage at such high quality why would they risk putting it in a container which would harm the flavour? The answer is that they wouldn't. There's nothing wrong with craft in a can provided the beer hasn't been changed to suit the container, and the can itself is properly lined (which they all are anyway nowadays). Brewdog have built a following thanks to some *cough* imaginitive marketing, and most importantly some amazing tasting beers that are completely different to those brewded by other UK brewers. So provided the beer remains awesome, who cares if it's canned?

Long live craft in cans!

Anyway, that's my two-pence worth. Please feel free to comment, and tell me how wrong I am.

29 comments:

  1. You are not wrong but can I say you are also not right? What you say may be correct, but there is a bigger picture than the intrinsic product.

    The pricey squeezed orange juice is packaged in a different shaped box from the cheap concentrate stuff. The boxed soups sell for 4 times the price of the canned soup, would they manage that in cans?

    We are about to see whether you can package a product as you would a standard product and still charge a premium. Interesting experiment.

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  2. I know what you mean. I think if Punk in cans is cheaper then it's not a bad move. If it's the same price then people will go for the bottle.

    If they do 6 little cans for a fiver that'd be great, but as yet there's no word on price...

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  3. It's great news for me, I'll be able to take some Punk IPA into Rebellion Punk Festival with me, and not worry about disposing of bottles, I can just chuck the can on the floor, crush it and skid it out of harms way.

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  4. Further, the can is just a package, not a consumption platform. The beer should still be poured into a glass.

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  5. I love the idea of a six pack of Punk. Would also love to take some to Glasto if I get tickets.

    What craft in a can have people tried in the past then?

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  6. Since "craft beer" actually means bugger all, who cares?

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  7. I thing you will find Rhymney Brewery have been canning their craft beer on site for a couple of years.

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  8. If Badger's canned beers aren't called 'craft beer', what difference does it make? If they are called 'craft beer'... what difference does it make?

    In the States, 'craft' basically means 'not produced by one of the two giants who dominate the industry', and fair enough. Over here I don't believe it means anything - it's just a self-aggrandising label used by a couple of brewers and their fans.

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  9. Just because "craft beer" is not an officially defined term in the UK does not invalidate it's use in this context.

    I'm pretty sure that 90% of the people reading this blog will have a decent idea what "Craft Beer" means.

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  10. Ian - not heard of these, where abouts are they based?

    Barm + Ian - I do think that 'craft beer' is a manufactured name, I agree with you on that. But 'Real ale' was a made up term as well, and look how that turned out.

    I think craft beer is beginning to mean beer from forward thinking breweries, producing quality products that aren't necessarily traditional UK styles. They are at the moment small breweries, but i dont think it's size that makes them 'craft' (although i know this is part of the definition in the US). I know it's a bit of a buzz word at the moment, but for me 'craft' makes a lot more sense than 'real ale in a bottle' which has to be bottle conditioned and blah blah blah.

    Thanks for contributing everybody. I'll be blogging on this again no doubt so make sure you subscribe to the rss feed in the top right.

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  11. dredpenguin - think you replied at the same time as me there.

    Glad you agree! The origins of the term arent important, it's what it is coming to mean that matters.

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  12. p.s. BIG THANKS to @Brewdog James for Tweeting about this blogpost

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  13. I'm excited about Punk going in a can. Some of the nicest beers I had last year were in cans and I got a giddy pleasure from drinking out of them, something fun and cheeky. There's no difference in the beer which goes into the container, whether it's a bottle or a can (the transport to the canning line is different but of the breweries you mention also do this because not everyone has canning lines!).

    I think it's a brave and interesting move and I hope it works. If it doesn't then at least they tried. I think much of the beer market probably isn't ready for cans in Britain, but, alternatively, this may see a big change in that. Who knows.

    As for the craft beer name debate... does anyone really care about whether it means anything here or not? I like the term, I know what it means and it means something to me. Until we get something better then I'll use it.

    I'll be at the front of the queue when this beer goes live on the website.

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  14. Punk in cans is a game changer. I hope. Not because it's BrewDog, not because it's an IPA. Because beer in cans should work and someone has to take the leap.

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  15. Mark, Pencil and Spoon - I agree, I think craft does have a place. "Real ale" has too many rules to be broad enough, "Beer" could easily mean fosters, although i'd even disoute that one! So for me "Craft Beer" is the best we've got right now to describe the beers I like.


    Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews - We've had beer in cans for a long time though, what makes Punk in cans a game changer?

    For me it's the lack of compromise the beer has gone through on its way into the can thats the important factor here.

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  16. It's not just that we don't agree what "craft beer" means, we don't agree what "means" means!

    "Real ale" has a precise (and quite brief) definition, which you can find on the CAMRA site. The definition is the meaning: you can take any beer on tap, anywhere in the world, and say whether it is or isn't "real ale" according to the definition.

    "Craft beer" doesn't have any definition at all, as far as I'm aware. (There's a definition of "craft brewer", which roughly means "smallish independent brewer" - but people talking about "craft beer" over here seem mostly to be talking about the beer, not the ownership of the plant.) People agree on what it implies - interesting, different, made with care, etc - but that's not a definition, just a set of positive associations.

    At the end of the day, if a brewer claims that they're producing "craft beer", can you say "no, they're not, because of X, Y and Z" - and not have your audience divide into those who like the beer and those who don't?

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  17. it's the lack of compromise the beer has gone through on its way into the can

    I didn't even know BrewDog made Kool-Aid...

    I think it's a lot simpler than that. Beer in cans has a bad name among beer geeks. BrewDog have a good name among beer geeks, so Punk IPA in cans (as long as it doesn't taste awful) changes the way beer geeks think about beer in cans. So yes, it's a game-changer. Admittedly, none of this matters at all to most people, but we're beer geeks, so it matters to us.

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  18. Haven't got a clue what the Kool-aid reference means...

    I think you are missing my point about the term craft beer. Real ale does have a very clear definition, but this definition is under scrutiny from members who think times have changed (I'm a camra member and their mag is full of arguments about this issue) and that keg beer isnt neccesarily bad, hence the term 'craft keg' that has emerged. "Real ale" should in my opinion continue to be a term to describe a certain type of dispense/beer type (i know not strictly a 'type' but does have certain characteristics across the board)

    I also agree that 'craft beer' is a very loose term, but that's the point. There is no other term that, as you put it, implies the correct qualities as well as "Craft beer" does.

    Craft beer can be kegged, it can be cask, it can be in a bottle, it can be in a can... but it's got to be high quality, and it's got to taste good.

    So until we've got a better term, I'm using it!

    Thanks for your input Phil, it's all good.

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  19. I remember Hall and Woodhouse canning Tanglefoot and Badger Best when I worked there in 1998/99 so I'm surprised to hear that you think this is a new thing. Admittedly it was nastily carbonated and tasted like crap but it was done...

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  20. Apologies. I've just read Zak's piece and this premium canning must be different to what I experienced in the 90's.

    I hope they do a better job this time!

    And as for Canned punk IPA. Bring it on especially if it's available in more varied shops. I'd rather not have to go into Tesco to buy it.

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  21. To answer a question above, Rhymney brewery are based in Merthyr Tydfel, south wales. They indeed do can their bitters and strong ale, but not sure what i would consider a 'craft brewer' in my mind/definition.

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  22. Phil - why does it need a precise meaning for it to be recognised?! You say yourself what associations it has, what attributes, so why isn't that good enough.

    As for real ale, yes it has a simple definition, but do many people know what that is or do they care? And is it positive? I think craft beer is more positive than real ale, especially to a younger audience.

    And like Neil says, until we've got something better then I'm using it because it means something to me!

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  23. I'm for the term craft beer, but i think its going to become more of a marketing tool than anything else.

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  24. I am surprised nobody has mentioned that Felinfoel in Llanelli were canning their beer in the 1930s, or does that not count?

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  25. It's not up to me, but i'm going to pretend it is and say........ maybe?

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  26. My problem with "craft beer" (although maybe I should save this for Friday!) is that at best it seems to mean "beer made the way I think beer ought to be made" and at worst it just seems to mean "beer I like". It's all incredibly subjective. Kegging can be 'craft', using a big high-tech brewery can be 'craft', being owned by a major can be 'craft' - what's left? We end up in a situation where 'craft' is a content-free marketing label - and the trouble with marketing labels is that some people get to apply them and others don't.

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  27. I just thought I'd check in and make sure Phil had aired his discussion of 'craft beer' here - he's quite right in what he says, although never quite hitting the definition on the head - but that's probably not his aim. Maybe what 'craft beer' in the UK means is "beer your dad won't approve of (if he's a CAMRA member)".

    On a more general note, I'm not sure that I ever said Badger were putting their 'craft beer' in cans - but I did write about Badger and their aspirations for the premium canned ale category, which is a different thing altogether.

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  28. You are quite right. I didn't mean to miss quote you, and you did indeed use the term 'premium canned ale' but I thought that the references to dredge etc pushing for cans referred to 'craft in a can' as thats what he's called it. Hope that makes sense.

    What do you see as the difference between premium canned ale and craft beer in a can?

    Really appreciate you joining the debate.

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  29. "Generally speaking it's just the macro lagers and smooth bitters that get a canning in the UK."

    Hmm, not entirely true. Many of the best-selling premium bottled ales such as Pedigree, Hobgoblin, Old Speckled Hen, Abbot, Directors, London Pride, Tanglefoot etc are also available in cans.

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