Canning is booming in the craft beer industry, as everyone from tiny breweries to bigger players like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium jumps in. Benefits of the can include better protection from light and air (both of which can mess up a beer's aromas and flavors) and easier shipping than bottles. "Think of cans as a tiny keg that delivers fresh, draft quality beer to you in a convenient little package," says Indianapolis's Sun King Brewing on its website. To test the truth of this, the CHOW staff recently blind-tasted 15 canned craft beers. These are our top-rated picks.
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New Belgium Shift
This new offering from Colorado, packaged exclusively in cans, proved the favorite with our tasters. It contains four types of hops including the trendy Nelson Sauvin variety, source of the beer's hint of tropical fruit flavors and aromas. Tasters loved its low 5 percent ABV, its citrusy but not bitter hoppiness, and its overall easy-drinking balance.
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Uncommon Brewers Golden State Ale
This organic golden ale from Santa Cruz is brewed with poppy seeds, an homage to California's state flower. It's crisp and light with a nutty flavor from the seeds, easy to drink, and smooth without being bland. Tasters tuned into its yeasty, fruity overtones, and noticed its slightly heavy 6.4 percent ABV.
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Brewery Vivant Farm Hand
This was the first time CHOW had tasted anything from this Michigan-based brewery specializing in Belgian-style beers. Farm Hand is a 5 percent ABV farmhouse-/saison-type beer, refreshing with a hint of sourness. Tasters found it "lemonade-y," and liked its fizzy carbonation.
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Sun King/Oskar Blues Chaka
Two craft-canning leaders recently put together this Belgian-style ale, packaged in resealable aluminum bottles (OK, so not technically cans). This was the tasting's sleeper, the favorite of many—surprising, since it was the heaviest of the bunch at 8 percent ABV. Tasters liked its "slightly wheaty and maple-y" flavor and great balance of sweetness, caramel malt, and hops.
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21st Amendment Brew Free! or Die
Maybe it was our tasters' San Francisco bias sniffing out a hometown entry even sampling blind, but this local brewery's offering (and we mean local—they're only a few blocks from the CHOW offices) was the top-rated of the pale ales and IPAs. Tasters liked the smooth, full flavor of this 7 percent ABV IPA.
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Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde Lager
Tasters loved this European-style lager for its clean, refreshing flavor and drinkability: "could drink a lot of these," one sampler noted. It was deemed one of the most summery of all the beers—not surprising, since it registers a nice low 5.1 percent ABV.