NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Don't buy your beer cans this summer based by the size of their mouths, the cold-activated decals on their labels or the hole in their tops that lets you chug like it's pledge week.
Buy them because there's fresh, untainted, enjoyable beer inside.
The can has been part of the American beer drinking experience since 1935, when Gottfried Kruger Brewing in Newark, N.J., rolled out the first packs of metal-clad suds. For much of the 20th century, they were big brewers' calling cards and are still commonly associated with the suitcases and 30 packs of Bud, Miller and Coors produced by
The upside is that cans seal out more light and ultraviolet radiation than brown bottles and are lighter and easy to recycle than glass. The downside is that drinkers still associate cans with yellowish light lager and a harsh metallic taste. Even though canned beer variety has increased dramatically since
started canning Dale's Pale Ale in 2002, it's still tough to convince older drinkers that cans lined with water-based polymer won't taste like freshly licked tin foil.
Craft beer drinkers have been increasingly willing to give cans a try in recent years, however. The number of craft brewers canning brews increased from 130 last summer to more than 200 canning nearly 600 different beers this year, according to the folks at CraftCans.com.
That's a whole lot of beer to fit in your summer cooler and a broad spectrum between the lemony, Miller-produced Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and flat-top Chuchkey beer packed with its own opener and backed by
actor Adrian Grenier. To narrow it down a bit, we've checked in with CraftCans and selected 10 of the best canned craft brews to put on ice during the warm months:
Sierra Nevada Torpedo
Perhaps the best example of what canned beer has come to in the past couple of years is an aluminum-encased serving of hoppy, high-octane India Pale Ale. Folks accustomed to mild, easy drinking cans of light lager should approach 16-ounce tallboys of Torpedo with caution. They're as bitter and citrusy as a mouthful of fresh hops, while the 7.2% alcohol content is nearly double what you might find in that red, white and blue can in your neighbor's cooler.
Alchemist Heady Topper
Once you've enjoyed a can of Torpedo, you've primed the palate for something with significantly more kick. Though it calls Waterbury, Vt., home, Alchemist has no problem producing a 16-ounce can of West Coast Style 8% ABV double IPA. Just how bitter is this beer? Beer bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units that usually top out at 100. Alchemist claims 120 IBUs for Heady Topper. Good luck unpuckering.
Big Sky Brewing Company Moose Drool
As great as a citrusy IPA can be on a warm summer's day, a mild brown ale can be just as inviting. Moose Drool out of Missoula, Mont., has a little more kick than a light lager at 5.2% ABV, but is so malty, caramel flavored and lightly carbonated that having more than one isn't out of the question. Considering this is one of the best brown ales made in the U.S. and cans of brown ale are still fairly scarce, it's worth considering if you come across it in your area.
Half Acre Daisy Cutter
Do you really like hoppy pale ales but also like walking around and conducting cogent conversations an hour after having a couple? An American Pale Ale and its lower alcohol content is your answer, and few as fruity and pungent as Daisy Cutter are available in cans. Don't be intimidated by the tall, 16-ounce package: Daisy Cutter goes down easy, with very little kick. Folks in the Chicagoland area with easy access to these silver beauties should consider themselves fortunate to enjoy what is possibly the perfect summer can of beer.
It's not easy to pick a favorite from Brooklyn-based Sixpoint's family of canned brews, but this red, hoppy cream ale is just about the best this brewery has to offer. Cream ale can conjure a lot of bad memories if your last taste of it came from a cheap case of cans found at the cash and carry, but Sweet Action tastes more like a hoppy pale ale with the subtlety of a low-alcohol Belgian farmhouse beer. At 5.2% ABV, 16-ounce cans of Sweet Action are well suited to summer sipping.
21st Amendment Allies Win The War
Want a conversation piece in your cooler? We'd guess that the Allies Win The War can design with a World War II-era newspaper label, photos of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and inches of text about San Francisco-based 21st Amendment's collaboration with Eugene, Ore.'s
will easily be the most interesting can at any summer party. Just don't discount what's inside. Ninkasi and 21st Amendment packed these little 12-ouncers with an 8.5% English Strong Ale powerful enough to make beer's Axis powers consider capitulating.
The Colorado canner that started craft beer's crush on aluminum has pretty strong brews all along its line, but this 10.5% ABV imperial stout outmuscles them all. This is a bold beer that may look like what came out of your car during your last oil change, but balances its chocolate and coffee flavor with a bitterness that rivals even the strongest IPAs. It's a bit pricey -- from $11 to $16 for a four-pack -- and isn't for everyone, but it's heaven for anyone who's ever wanted a big beer in a small, 12-ounce package.
Surly Brewing Company Bitter Brewer
There are a bunch of canned seasonal brews out there, but few that get the idea of a summer beer better than this Minnesota-made English Bitter. Weighing in at a light 4% ABV and packed with the citrus flavor and aroma of a pale ale twice its size, 16-ounce cans of Bitter Brewer can leave a deck or patio full of empties without putting drinkers down for the count. It's a light and refreshing choice for days when heavier beers can't take the heat.
Brown ale's a great summer beer, but lower alcohol content makes it even better. Tallgrass out of Manhattan, Kan., struck that balance by giving its malty, chocolate brown only 4.4% ABV. It's light, smooth and unimposing even in a 16-ounce pint can. The artwork on its 8-Bit Pale Ale can is a bit more fun, but there's nothing wrong with a laid-back package for an equally mellow brew.
Brewery Vivant Triomphe
Michigan's breweries pride themselves on testing beer's boundaries, but Grand Rapids' Brewery Vivant takes it a step further by putting high-minded brews in decidedly downmarket cans. The Triomphe Belgian IPA has all the spice, citrus and aroma drinkers would expect from a tulip glass at a specialty pub, but seems an odd fit amid the other canned offerings. It's a bigger beer at 6.2% ABV and isn't built or price for a summer drinking session, but if you're looking for that one great, strong beer that will last through a summer sunset, this is tough to beat.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.