There was a great deal of interest a few weeks ago when JD Wetherspoon launched in all of their pubs, a range of craft beer in cans from the well thought of Sixpoint Brewery in New York State. Now it seems it all may be falling flat.
Canned beer to people of my generation is still a bit of a no no. It reminds us of awful McEwans's Export and Tennent's Lager swigged in kitchens at parties, or on the bus or train on the way to the game. Those lucky enough to have escaped the dreaded Scottish duo will no doubt have your local equivalent thereof to shudder over. Many of us will still have dreadful flashbacks to our plooky youth, necking the stuff straight out of the can in public parks and feel these days are rightly behind us and the idea of paying top dollar for such a thing, beyond comperehension. In short, canned beer is still seen by many as a cheap and inferior product with a distinct metallic tinge, though we are assured that nowadays the internal coatings in cans stop that happening. Folks like me saw, and to a large extent still see, cans as a transition product to pub drinking or at best, an occasional standby to give the less discerning visitor, or perhaps to surreptitiously neck in the privacy of our own living rooms when cash is short. Of course things move on and led by our American friends, craft beer in cans is seen as trendy and fun and to prove the point, can be bought in many of the "new wave" bars around the country for outrageous prices.
In fairness, technology is on the side of the can fan. Cans don't allow light in, which should ward off staling for much longer. The coatings inside prevent (as long as you decant it into a glass) the metallic taste and they are easier to chill and store for both consumer and retailer. What's not to like in some ways and exponents of canned beer were very excited when JDW started selling them at two for a fiver in their pubs. There was talk of a wonderful breakthrough into the mainstream and of the shattering of the high price craft beer model. "Canned beer is the future" type of thing. Heady stuff. Alas it seems that the JDW experiment (if that's what it is) is faltering. They just aren't selling. In fact in many JDWs, you can now get all three of the variants for a five spot. Quite a discount for genuine imported American beers.
So is it just that JDW is the wrong group to be selling the product, as their demographic would hardly seem to be best suited for it? Is it the case that the beers, as some have suggested, are thin and piss poor? Or are cans in mainstream pubs just something that won't sell? Does it tell us anything at all about the likely success of canned craft beer?
I think it does. Canned craft beer will remain a niche within a niche.
I made this comment about the beers when they were launched:
They (JDW) try beers out and quietly drop them when demand doesn't meet
expectations. You can probably expect that the availability of the new
range will be reduced in many pubs if the beers don't sell, or, as in
the past, they may just quietly be withdrawn. so maybe we best wait and
see before getting too excited?
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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