Joe Sixpack: As craft beers go heavy metal, will hopsheads crack open a can?
THE OTHER day, I pulled a 16-ounce can of Very Noddy lager out of the cooler, polished it off in a few gulps . . . and fell facedown on the floor.
That'll teach me to read the label more carefully.
Very Noddy, it turns out, is a one-off "Imperial Schwarzbier" from Buckbean Brewing, in Reno, Nev., with a very serious left hook: 10.5 percent alcohol by volume. Which means a single can packs the same punch as four 12-ouncers of Amstel Light.
Canned beer isn't just for guzzling any more.
In the seven years since Colorado's Oskar Blues became the first craft brewery to install canning equipment, more than 50 other microbreweries have adopted aluminum. Most of them tiptoed into canning, packaging lighter-bodied ales and lagers - the kind of ice-cold brews you'd suck down after a hot day in the sun.
Lately, however, breweries have begun playing with heavy metal.
It's not unusual to find cans edging closer to double-digit alcohol strength, and I'm not talking about those malt-liquor tallboys. The new cans are rich, full-flavored and complex, with major hops and ridiculous malt bills.
Next month, for example, Sly Fox Brewery (Pennsylvania) will release a canned version of its highly regarded Rt. 113 India Pale Ale, an intensely bitter ale that registers 7.2 percent alcohol and 113 international bittering units. (A standard pale ale typically contains about 35 IBUs.)
This is an ale whose aromatic Centennial and Cascade hops are more expressive when poured on draft or from a shareable, 22-ounce bottle. Sticking all those bitter buds into a can seems completely alien - like installing leather seats in a pickup truck.
Will hopsheads crack open a can?
"I think so," said Sly Fox brewer Brian O'Reilly. "When people buy craft beer, they go for beers that have more distinctive flavors. . . . The idea that you can get an IPA in a can is exciting."
Just as they did with the "extreme" brewing movement that brought us unexpected new beer styles, craft brewers are pushing the envelope with cans.
Siamese Twin Ale (8.5 percent abv) is a Belgian-style dubbel from Uncommon Brewing, in Santa Cruz, Calif., that's seasoned with coriander, lemongrass and Kaffir lime.
San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery cans a Belgian abbey-style ale called Monk's Blood (8.5 percent abv) that's brewed with cinnamon, vanilla beans and black mission figs, and aged on oak chips. Deeply malty and layered with rich fruit and caramel notes, it seemingly belongs in a chalice, not a can.
That's the ironic nuance of this trend: Even as their design precludes the tragedy of glass breakage, canned big beers deserve to be dispensed into proper glassware. Surly Brewing (Minnesota), whose Coffee Bender brown ale is brewed with Guatemalan beans, even goes to the trouble of advertising that it's "Beer for a glass, from a can."
Dale Katechis, the brewer who got all of this started at Oskar Blues, said that the matter of pouring shouldn't be a big deal.
"Nobody complains about pouring bottled beer into a glass," Katechis said. "I mean, when was the last time you drank a Chimay Grande Réserve straight out of the bottle?"
But beer drinkers have an irrational attachment to their beverage containers. Who among us doesn't have a soft spot for the 7-ounce pony bottle? Who hasn't heroically orated the 33-word slogan printed on bottles of Rolling Rock: "From the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe . . . "?
Beer cans? We kick 'em, we crush 'em, we shoot rifles at 'em. And we always drink beer straight out of 'em.
These days, though, you'd better read the label first.
Earlier this month, Oskar Blues released its latest canned beer, Gubna. It's an imperial IPA with 10 percent alcohol and 100 IBUs.
Chug one of these babies, and you'll be joining me on the floor.
"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. E-mail