Can-vassing the Nation
Like Krebs, OK, where Pete’s Place has been producing the nation’s first can-conditioned beer. Pete’s Place may be the oldest brewpub in the U.S. When he opened his restaurant in 1925, founder Pete Prichard supplied a bootleg brew called “Choc” to the thirsty coalminers who formed his clientele. The beer was named after local Choctaw Indians who shared their recipe with Italian immigrants. In 1995, grandson Joe Prichard decided to go legitimate and got the place licensed as a brewpub. He invested in a manual canner after seeing Katechis’ machine in action. “Dale canned some of our beer for us, and sent it back to us,” says brewer Michael Lalli.
Lalli says of Choc, “There’s no filtration, so there is still yeast in the beer. I prime it with dextrose in the brite tank before canning. As far as I know, nobody’s ever done it before, but we think something magic happens when you do it that way.” Choc won a bronze medal in the American wheat beer category at the 2000 Great American Beer Festival. Now you can buy the cans over the bar at Pete’s Place or in select outlets throughout Oklahoma for $7 a six-pack.
Half a continent away in Ukiah, CA, Bret Cooperrider has just released what’s probably the country’s first organic beer in a can. Cooperrider is the general manager and brewmaster for Ukiah Brewing Co., a brewpub that’s one of only two eating establishments in the U.S. to be certified organic. With a few exceptions, all of the 700 food and beverage items on his menu are produced without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides, and in keeping with sustainable agricultural practices.
Cooperrider says of his Pilsner Ukiah, “I had never brewed a lager before, but I’m a huge fan of Pilsner Urquell. This is a little bigger in body, and more heavily hopped.” He admits the Czech Saaz hops are not organic, but since they make up such a small percentage of the beer’s weight, he was still able to get his certification. Why get into cans? “A lot of our clientele are very outdoorsy: they’re into kayaking, river rafting, etc. I also appreciate the ease of recycling aluminum cans.”
In Houghton, a college town of about 10,000 on Michigan’s upper peninsula, Dick Gray of Keweenah Brewing Co. has decided to sidestep bottling and go directly into canning. Local drinkers can buy the brewery’s Pick Axe Blonde in cans, and a second product, Red Jacket Amber, is expected in the near future. Owner Gray is actually based in Denver, CO, where he runs an oil and gas exploration company. But he hails from Michigan, and knows the territory well. “You’ve got to like the outdoors, you’ve got to like winter,” he says of life in northern Michigan, where hunting and snowmobiling are major pastimes. Sportsmen like to tote around the lighter, more compact container. And students of legal age, adds Gray, appreciate the cans because they’re not allowed to have bottles at their parties.
Micro-canning is gaining a toehold in nearly every corner of the nation, from Anchorage, Alaska, where Sleeping Lady Brewing Co. is offering Urban Wilderness Pale Ale in cans, to Top of the Hill Brewing Co. in Chapel Hill, NC, where company president Scott Maitland was about to begin canning a lager and an IPA. New England is a hotbed, with at least five microbreweries now canning. “We sell a lot of beer along the coastline… glass doesn’t travel on beaches or on boats,” says Brent Ryan of Coastal Extreme Brewing Co. in Middletown, RI, whose Hurricane Amber Ale is available in aluminum.
Meanwhile, Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, Montana has taken a different approach, opting for sleek, shiny 14.5-oz aluminum bottles. The bottles, manufactured by the Cebal Corporation of Europe, are so light that the breeze from an idling fan can tip over an empty container. In 2003, Big Sky introduced two brands—Moose Drool Brown Ale and Scape Goat Pale Ale—in the new package. The first depicted a motorcycle-riding moose, the second a tartan-clad goat lugging golf clubs. Big Sky has changed the design periodically, much to the delight of can collectors.