Serious Beer: Now in Cans

Beer Reviews

Seeking out the best in malty, hoppy refreshment.


[Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

This Super Bowl season, I'm rooting for the underdog: canned beer. No, I won't be arriving at a game day party with Bud Light or sixpacks of Miller. Truly tasty microbrews are now available in cans, and there are plenty of reasons to stock up.

This week marks the 75th anniversary of canned beer, but the cans have changed. Craft breweries now use cans lined with a water-based coating that prevents the beer from ever touching metal, so there's no metallic flavor. (That doesn't mean that you should drink straight from the can; these fine beers are meant to be poured into a glass so your mouth doesn't touch metal either.)

Cans stack well in the fridge, eliminating wasted space that could be filled with seven-layer dip and, um, more beer.

Canned beer chills faster than beer in bottles.

Cans weigh less, which means they're easier to bring to a friend's house, and require less fuel to ship from brewery to retailer. While drinking local beer from refillable growlers is probably the best option environmentally, cans may be the next-best-option. They require less energy to produce and to recycle than glass bottles.

Cans block out light and seal out oxygen so your beer won't turn skunky.

Cans are safer than glass for outdoor activities like boating, tubing, and hanging out by the pool. You can bring canned beer to many places where glass bottles are not allowed.

You can crush cans on your forehead. Please don't try that with a bottle.

Most importantly, many delicious craft beers are now only available in cans, not bottles. We sampled a pyramid's worth to let you know what's tasty.

Serious Beer Ratings

***** Our new favorite **** Awesome, worth remembering *** We'd consider buying this again ** There are probably better options * No, thanks, I'll have water.

Ratings are subject to personal taste.

Canned Beer Champions

Ska Modus Hoperandi Colorado, 6.8% ABV This reddish amber IPA starts out dry, then the flavor blossoms into fresh pomelo sweetness. We were reminded of pineapple and pine trees, and though some people might be overwhelmed by the burst of hops, this was my personal favorite. ****1/2

Ska ESB Special Ale Colorado, 5.7% ABV This well-balanced beer is rich and satisfying, with rye toast flavors and a hint of cashew. There are mellow orangey hops up front, but it settles into a yeasty earthiness. This would be a great accompaniment to nachos and hot wings. It's a very likable beer. ****1/2

Maui Big Swell IPA Hawaii, 6.2% ABV This delicious IPA smells like Jolly Rancher orange candy, but the taste isn't sweet. It's smooth and bright, with mandarin orange and grapefruit flavors up front, and rich caramel malt and earl gray tea flavors in the finish. We tasted fresh cut grass and rosemary too. We wish someone would bring a few more of these over to our house. ****1/4

Beers Worth Cheering For

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale Colorado, 6.5% ABV This creamy, malty ale has lovely maple and toast flavors balanced with spicy hops; tangerine, lemon, tarragon, and pine brighten the finish. It's refreshing and quite drinkable, though it could be too hoppy for some. ****

Caldera Pale Ale Oregon, 5.4% ABV This sharp pale ale has notes of pine and lemon peel that mellow out in the finish. It's refreshing and would be delicious with chips, salsa, and guacamole. ****

Surly Furious Minnesota, 6.2% ABV This IPA is an intense experience. Put the glass down on the coffee table and you can smell the piney, lemony hops from several feet away. Be sure to let it warm up to bring out the herbal notes: We tasted sage and thyme along with oily pinesap and rich Scottish malt. This beer is a mouthful, and it demands your full attention. ****

Red Racer India Pale Ale British Columbia, 6.5% ABV This IPA might be too bitter for some people, but hopheads will appreciate its racy hops and bright lemon peel flavor. We were also reminded of black pepper, cloves, and pine branches, as well as a hint of papaya. There's some nuttiness to this creamy beer, and we're big fans. ****

21st Amendment Brew Free or Die IPA California, 7% ABV This friendly, fruity beer reminded us of orange-pineapple juice. It's quite drinkable, aromatic, and appealing, and masks the alcohol level well. This is an IPA that will appeal to many. ****

Maui Bikini Blonde Lager Hawaii, 4.5% ABV This beer's scent reminded us of pineapple; it tastes yeasty and rich. This lager is smooth and creamy, with pear and hay flavors. Very drinkable, with just a hint of sweetness. ****

Porkslap Pale Ale New York, 4.3% ABV This farmhouse ale pours dark amber and has a bit of barnyardy flavor. It's all about rich caramel malt, without much in the hops department. The flavors reminded us of graham crackers, pecans, and honey butter. This would be great with chili and cornbread. If you're looking to introduce someone to craft beers, this would be a great, easy place to start. ****

Sly Fox Royale Weisse Ale Pennsylvania, 5.6% ABV This citrusy unfiltered wheat beer is pleasantly tart. We think it would be awesome with nachos, since it almost tastes like there's lime in it. Both refreshing and full-flavored, this beer has malty hints of cream soda. ***1/2

Oskar Blues Gordon Colorado, 8.7% ABV This double IPA is deeply hoppy, with an almost sticky pinesap and sweet orange flavor. Rich malt balances the strong hop flavors and one taster pronounced this the best beer she'd ever had in a can. ***1/2

Anderson Valley Poleeko Gold Pale Ale California, 5.5% ABV This crisp, medium-bodied pale ale is approachable and drinkable, with hints of orange peel and a bit of peachy sweetness. This is definitely a beer you could bring to a party that includes both beer nerds and newbies, and it would be right at home with spicy food. ***1/2

Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils Colorado, 5.3% ABV This pilsner is dry and flavorful, a nice domestic alternative to Pilsner Urquell. It has crisp, hoppy bitterness and enough body to stand up to spicy food. This could be a winner with hot wings. ***1/2

Big Sky Trout Slayer Ale Montana, 4.7% ABV This wheat ale is a perfect Super Bowl beer—light and crisp, refreshing and drinkable. There's a bit of hoppy bitterness up front, but the finish is mild and soft. One of our tasters immediately requested another of these. ***1/2

Caldera IPA Oregon, 6.1% ABV This tasty IPA smells like ruby red grapefruit juice and has a serious helping of caramel malt. The finish is quite dry and bitter--a little too bitter for some. ***1/2


Earthy Beers for Barbecue

Cucapá Obscura Mexico, 4.5% ABV This roasty brown ale had a hint of butterscotch and molasses, which convinced us it would be a winner with pulled pork or ribs, or any spicy food. This beer is quite malty, with really nice toasty notes. ***1/2

Buckbean Black Noddy Lager Nevada, 5.2% If your Super Bowl plans involve smoky meatstuffs, consider tracking down this earthy Schwarzbier. It has a delicate roasted flavor that increases as it warms—don't serve this one too cold. It has a hint of dry smoke flavor—some of our tasters loved it, while others weren't convinced. ***

Easy-Drinking Brews for a Long Game

Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale Pennsylvania, 5.25% ABV This beer is not actually that pale—it's more like a hoppy amber, with tasty caramel malt flavors and a bit of hop bite. It's fresh-tasting and quite drinkable. ***

Keweenaw Pick Axe Blonde Michigan, 4.7% ABV This clean-tasting beer has subtle mandarin orange notes, with just a hint of bitterness. The flavor reminded us of fresh baked yeasty bread with creamy butter on top. The finish drops off cleanly. ***

Sly Fox Pikeland Pils Pennsylvania, 4.9% ABV This fruity pilsner has light apricot flavors, but some tasters found the bitter lemon-peel finish overwhelming. ***

New Belgium Sunshine Wheat Colorado, 4.8% ABV This accessible wheat beer poured very pale yellow, and was light and bright in flavor. One taster was reminded of peach-flavored Clearly Canadian soda. **1/2

Keweenaw Red Jacket Amber Ale Michigan, 5% ABV This easy-drinking session beer has toasty malt flavors, but seemed a little thin to some of our tasters. It has likable hints of honey and orange tea flavor, but we were looking for something bolder. **1/2

And For Dessert

Maui CoCoNut Porter Hawaii, 5.7% ABV This combination of flavors could go horribly wrong, but this is a beautifully made beer. It is smooth and chocolaty with a nutty coconut finish that doesn't overwhelm. This may not be a beer we'd drink every day, but its velvety richness was pretty seductive, especially since we love Mounds bars. If you don't like coconut, skip this one. If you do, try pairing this beer with cheesecake. **** for coconut-lovers only

Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Colorado, 9.5% ABV If you ever thought that canned beer couldn't be serious, a sip of this imperial stout will knock that thought right out of your head. This intense beer is rich, silky, and robust, with roasty flavors, a hint of smoke, and deep dark chocolate notes. It's a warming, potent beer, and not for everyone, but if you like imperial stouts you should give this a try. ***1/2

A Few Fumbles

Uncommon Brewers Siamese Twin California, 8.5% ABV This unusual dubbel-inspired beer is brewed with coriander, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. The herbs, rich malt, and spicy belgian yeast flavors unfortunately don't quite balance the potent alcohol level. One taster said the flavor reminded him of Grand Marnier. ***

Sly Fox Dunkel Lager Pennyslvania, 5.3% This wasn't our favorite of Sly Fox's canned offerings. It has a light breadiness and hints of caramel and licorice, but lacks complexity. Some tasters thought the carbonation was a little over the top, and wished the flavor was a little more intense. **1/2

Disclosure: The beers from Ska, Maui, Caldera, Anderson Valley, Big Sky, Buckbean, New Belgium, Keweenaw, and Uncommon Brewers were review samples.