O Beautiful Beer: 21st Amendment's Bitter American
Beer: Bitter American
Brewery: 21st Amendment Brewery
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 4.4 percent
Welcome back to Craft Beer OTW, where our discussion of canned craft beer continues. Now, it's come to my attention that despite my very convincing proselytizing on canned craft beer's behalf, there are still plenty of naysayers when it comes to this particular package. I may be vain, but even I recognize that a discussion is not a discussion without a dissenting opinion. So today I've given the anti-can crowd out there a chance to join the debate. Naysayers, what say you?
Naysayers: Well, nay, first. But we'd follow that quickly with our strongest point: Beer in cans tastes like metal!
Zach: False. Beer tastes like beer. Cans taste like metal. This argument may have held water 20 or 30 years ago, but the inside of today's cans are all coated with an inert epoxy liner. This stuff acts like a shield between the beer and the can, so the two never actually touch. Certain can manufacturers have even started using different liners for different types of beers based on their pH, so there is zero chance of seepage. Now, if you're not pouring your beer into a glass like you should and are instead drinking straight from the can, you may get a metallic flavor -- but that'll happen when you're licking aluminum.
Naysayers: Right -- aluminum! Cans are made from aluminum, which is converted from an ore called bauxite, the mining of which scars the land and is very detrimental to the environment. Plus, it takes twice as much energy to turn raw bauxite into a can as it does to turn silica into a glass bottle, so bottles are better for the environment overall.
Zach: True. if recycling programs didn't exist, bottles would be the way to go. Thing is, they do exist, and you can recycle a greater percentage of a can (around 40 percent) than a bottle (about 20 percent to 30 percent). Plus, you save more energy recycling cans than glass -- about 90 percent energy savings are accumulated in recycling a ton of aluminum, while glass only yields about 26 percent. A significant amount of energy is saved per can versus per bottle.
Naysayers: Fine. But what about the beer that comes in them? Bottles are beautiful, their caps collectible, their labels elegant. When I want a good beer, I go for a bottle, because the only beer you can get in a can is cheap swill.
Zach: Canned craft beer has the same PR problem as twist-top wine. It's a more perfect, more technologically advanced vessel, but some greedy drink-makers got there first, and since first impressions are the strongest, the perception is that beer and wine in these packages is going to be of lesser quality. There's only one way to change this view, and that's by putting out some delicious product that comes in cans. Luckily, many craft breweries have started packaging their beers exclusively in cans.
Naysayers: Name one.
Zach: I thought you'd never ask.
In 2000, Nico Freccia and Shaun O'Sullivan founded a brewery in San Francisco's historic South Park neighborhood and called it 21st Amendment Brewery (the 21st Amendment, as any dedicated drinker would know, is the one that repealed Prohibition). The brewery produces a line of very tasty brews available only on draft and in cans, the best-known of which is probably Hell or High Watermelon wheat ale, though for my money the best beer they make is Bitter American. This 42-IBU brew is what the brewers call an American Session Ale -- low on alcohol, high on everything else.
Warrior and Cascade hops are in abundance in this brew, which becomes clear when you dip you nose near the clear, amber liquid: grass and pine balance nicely with caramel, brown sugar and crackers. A sip delivers malty notes of toasted biscuits, honey and peanuts that offset the crisp bite of grassy and floral hops. The flavor's light, but there's an amazing balance, and the subtlety works with the moderate effervescence of the light-bodied brew. For such low ABV, Bitter American showcases incredible balance and refreshing flavors. Were it available in these parts, it would be my go-to golf beer.
Naysayers: You can't get it here?
Zach: Not yet. But 21st Amendment will be at the AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Fest May 18, so you can get your fix then.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.