Moor to canned beer than initially thought

Justin Hawke, his wife Maryann and the brewing team at Moor Beer

Justin Hawke, his wife Maryann and the brewing team at Moor Beer - Credit: Archant

Life is full of surprises but I never thought, when I set out as a beer writer a decade or two ago, that I would one day write in praise of canned beer. “Tinned beer” was once the dismissive name for the product and the contents tended to taste more of its metal container than any recognisable type of alcohol.

Justin Hawke, his wife Maryann and the brewing team at Moor Beer

Justin Hawke, his wife Maryann and the brewing team at Moor Beer - Credit: Archant

But technology improves. Modern cans are treated in such a way that the metal has a neutral flavour and the result is that drinkers now taste malt and hops rather than Brasso.

The move from glass to can started in the United States where take-home beer accounts for around 80 per cent of sales. Americans don’t enjoy our pub culture and brewers are keen that drinkers will enjoy a good-tasting product from the comfort of their sofas.

Cans lack the elegance of a well-designed bottle and label but new cans now have imaginative, eye-catching graphics that stand out on the shelves.

The main reason why brewers are keen to use cans is that most take-home beer is sold by supermarkets and if bottles stand on shelves under bright lights for several days the contents can be “light struck”. This means the beer deteriorates and taste like stewed cardboard. There’s no risk of that happening with cans.

The rapid growth of the canned sector can be seen by Tesco’s decision to launch a range of beers in metal that come from prestigious brewers such as Adnams in the UK and Anchor and Brooklyn in the U.S. These are companies that take enormous pride in the quality of their beers and would never cut corners where taste is concerned.

The full range of Tesco’s canned beers is: Adnams Dry Hopped Lager and Crystal Rye IPA, Brooklyn East IPA, Anchor California Lager, Piston Head Amber Lager, and three beers from Vocation Brewery – Life & Death IPA, Heart & Soul Session IPA and Pride & Joy American-style Pale Ale. The beers come in 330ml cans and each costs £1.79.

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The fact that IPA – India Pale Ale – accounts for a large proportion of the beers is testimony to the remarkable revival and popularity of the style.

One brewer who loves IPA and puts it into cans is Justin Hawke, who runs Moor Beer in Bristol. Justin is an American from California who fell in love with German wheat beer when he did his military service there. When he moved to Britain he developed even greater passion for real ale and with his wife Maryann bought a small Somerset brewery and moved it to Bristol.

Justin brews conventional cask-conditioned beer for pubs but for the take-home sector he has developed a special form of packaged beer: real ale in a can. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised and the cans are, in his word, “squidgy” when filled to leave sufficient room for a secondary fermentation. During fermentation, beer and natural carbon dioxide fill the remaining space.

Justin Hawke’s canned beers have created enormous interest, in particular his 5.7% IPA called Return of the Empire. Justin has just brought out a new beer in collaboration with Fuller’s, the renowned Chiswick brewer. The beer is called Relentless Optimism and you can sample it in Fuller’s pubs on draught as well trying the canned version in supermarkets.

Good beer in a new form is reaching out to a wider and appreciative audience. That’s good news -- but for my money I will always prefer beer that comes gushing from a handpump on the bar and into a glass. That’s perfection.