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Canned Craft Beers Crushing It

Think of how many places can you enjoy craft beer now that you couldn't before because of glass restrictions. Luckily, craft beer in cans just keeps crushing it!

If you are looking for the poster beer for how far canned craft beer has come, consider the latest offering from Upslope Brewing Co.

The second in a limited series of specialty beers, Barrel Aged Brown Ale, is rich and complex, the result of four months aging in rye whiskey barrels from small-batch Denver distillery Leopold Bros.

The 19.2-ounce can is tall, sleek and elegantly designed in silver and white with a dash of Upslope maroon.

Brewery co-founder Matt Cutter envisions his creation being stored in cellars and enjoyed months and even years from now as it matures and gains character. That's right — a canned beer you can age.

Dale Katechis must be smiling.

Longmont-based Oskar Blues is widely credited with starting the craft can revolution in 2002 when it began selling its flagship Dale's Pale Ale, named for brewery founder Katechis, in 12-ounce cans.

The traditional knocks against cans — they make beer taste metallic! — and the perception that good beers don't belong in them have diminished as canning technology has improved and attitudes change.

The pros of cans are oft-cited: They are easier to lug around (attractive in outdoorsy Colorado), protect beer from light damage and reduce shipping costs because aluminum weighs less than glass.

As of the end of 2013, 362 small and independent U.S. craft brewers were canning beers, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association.

An informative website dedicated to tracking the trend, CraftCans, has tallied 1,480 canned craft beers from 412 breweries, representing 94 beer styles and every state.

The three largest American craft breweries — Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing and Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing — all have added cans while continuing to sell beer in bottles, too.

We've moved to the next phase of the craft can movement, beyond acceptance and into innovation. As they do with their beers, craft brewers are pushing boundaries with what is possible with a can.

Oskar Blues has continued to storm ahead, introducing cans with resealable caps and, earlier this year, becoming the first U.S. brewery to put a nitrogenated beer in cans - Old Chub, its Scotch Ale.

Rarely does a week go by without news of another Colorado brewery — many of them new to the scene — putting its creations in cans.

One notable addition to the Denver market this month is Denver Beer Co., which folded a canning line into its new 30-barrel production brewery that recently began operations in north Denver.

The 3-year-old brewery will initially sell two beers in cans — tap-room favorite Incredible Pedal IPA and its award-winning signature Graham Cracker Porter, marketed as "campfire in a can."

On a smaller scale, Hall Brewing in Parker last month began putting its three flagship beers in cans after previously packaging exclusively in 22-ounce bottles, which don't hold such broad appeal.

Owner and CEO Sue Hall said the brewery was overwhelmed with requests from locals to start canning beers, demand she chalks up to strong interest in bringing good beer on trips to the outdoors.

One coup was landing an account with Costco, which Hall said was enthusiastic about the brewery's canned mix pack — an innovation that feeds into consumers' desire to try lots of different things.

The flood of cans to the market raises shelf-space questions. Is there room for everyone?

Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, argues that retailers are best served by a diverse selection.

"We are in the middle of a beer renaissance, and decisions are having to be made at the retail level to keep up with the pace of the ever-thirsty beer lover," she said.

The ease of canning has lowered barriers to selling packaged beer and exacerbated concerns about declining quality, an ongoing industry worry.

We've heard grumblings about cans from newer breweries that are half-filled or filled with beer that doesn't measure up.

On the flip side, cans also can lead to discoveries from small breweries that beer drinkers have yet to visit (Boulder-based Asher Brewing Co.'s Green Bullet Organic IPA is a recent find).

For Upslope, the new series in 19.2-ounce cans provides an opportunity to showcase its experimental side. Most consumers, Cutter noted, know the brewery for its traditional ales and lager.

For now, the cellar-friendly cans of Barrel Aged Brown are available at the brewery's original Lee Hill tap room for $10 a pop.

"This is a chance to stretch our wings a bit," Cutter said. "Now, we are opening up people's minds to having a cellared beer in a can — what a concept."

By: Eric Gorski, Denver Post

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