The first beer can -- a heavy-gauge steel number that had to be stabbed open with a sharp piece of metal -- first hit the market almost 80 years ago. I envy the beer bloggers of those days. With just two beers available (Krueger's Cream Ale and Krueger's Finest Beer), ranking the best canned beers in the country would've been pretty easy. How far we've come: craftcans.com, an online database of canned craft beer, has catalogued nearly 1,500 brews packaged in aluminum. Choosing the best among them is no longer such a simple task.
Not that we'll stop trying. Some of the best canned beers in the country were announced as winners in the AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival's medal competition Saturday (you can view a video of the medal ceremony here, if you're so inclined). But many more fantastic aluminum-housed ales and lagers weren't even sent to be judged. Here, we rank 11 beers you won't find at this Saturday's festival -- the best canned beers in the U.S.
Brewery Vivant - Tart Side of the Moon Belgian Strong Ale 9.8 percent ABV Available in: Grand Rapids, Michigan Fermented with a blend of two Belgian yeast strains, and aged three months, Tart Side of the Moon blends funky tartness with darker flavors of chocolate, black cherries and coffee beans. Plus if you drink it while watching The Wizard of Oz, the flavors totally match up, man.
Cigar City Brewing - Tocobaga Red Ale 7.2 percent ABV Available in: Tampa, Florida The Tocobaga were Florida natives who lived in Tampa Bay hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived in the 1500's. They live on in this incredible red that balances piney hops and woody notes with a punch of caramel and toasted bread rolls.
DC Brau Brewing Co. - On the Wings of Armageddon Imperial IPA 9.2 percent ABV Available in: Washington, D.C. First brewed to commemorate/drink away the horrors of the Mayan apocalypse that was supposed to happen in 2012, On the Wings of Armageddon gets it intense hop character from Falconer's Flight, a blend of some of the Northwest's most popular hop varieties. The result is a tongue-bruiser with notes of juicy grapefruit, papaya a fresh-cut grass.
Noda Brewing Co. - Hop Drop 'N Roll American IPA 7.2 percent Available in: Charlotte, North Carolina Hop, Drop 'n Roll beat out 223 other entries to win gold in the American IPA category at this year's World Beer Cup, which effectively makes it the best IPA in the world. It's brewed with a blend of English and American base malts, then hopped before, during and after the boil with Citra and Amarillo hops. Get some.
Karbach Brewing Co. - Sympathy for the Lager Vienna Lager 4.9 percent ABV Available in: Houston, Texas The most popular canned beers in the country (by sales, anyway) are light lagers -- sad, watered-down versions of their German and Czechoslovakian forebears. With condolences to what lager had become, Karbach brewed Sympathy to showcase a clean, refreshing character yeast character and balanced German hop flavor.
Modern Times Beer - Blazing World Red Ale 6.8 percent Available in: San Diego, California Much like Jay Z, Modern Times specializes in mashups, blending together different styles and flavors. Blazing World is an aggressively hoppy brew that shares characteristics with both imperial IPAs and amber ales. Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic and Simcoe hops give it a dank aroma packed with white grapes, mango and grapefruit peel, while the flavor blends burnt sugar, biscuits and grass. Also look for Modern Times' coffee stout, Black House.
Revolution Brewing Co. - Eugene Porter Porter 6.8 percent Available in: Chicago, Illinois Named for Eugene V. Debs, an American union leader who led the Pullman Railroad strike in 1894, Eugene gets its unique roasty complexity from a variety of Belgian specialty malts. Toffee, walnut, chocolate -- it's a revolution for the taste buds.
Sun King Brewing Co. - Grapefruit Jungle 7.5 percent American IPA Available in: Indianapolis, Indiana Sun King's brewers crafted this juicy, resinous IPA in tribute to 1955's Blackboard Jungle, which brought Rock & Roll to the masses, as well as to celebrate the brewery's own anniversary. The beer's made with the equivalent of a pound of hops per keg (hint: that's a lot), giving it a hop aroma and flavor that's enough to get tangled in: tangerine, apricot, orange zest and grapefruit -- lots and lots of grapefruit.
The Alchemist - Heady Topper Imperial IPA 8 percent Available in: Waterbury, Vermont Heady Topper isn't only one of the best canned beers in the nation; it's one of the country's best beers in any package and is currently ranked number 1 worldwide on beeradvocate.com. It's easy to see why: the brew boasts one of the the dankest, grassiest, most resinous noses you'll ever encountered. It's absolutely FUNKY with hops; a blend of liquified weed and grass blades. It's also the only beer The Alchemist packages, and is only available in Vermont.
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Surly Brewing Co. - Coffee Bender Brown Ale 5.1 percent ABV Available in: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota Surly's regular oatmeal brown ale, Bender, is enhanced here with Guatemalan coffee through a cold-press coffee-brewing process. It's as aromatic as a bag of coffee beans, but buttresses with spicy hops and notes of dark chocolate.
Westbrook Brewing - White Thai Witbier 5 percent ABV Available in: Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina Inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine, Westbrook's brewers replaced the traditional Belgian witbier adjuncts -- coriander and orange peel -- with fresh lemongrass, ginger root and Sorachi Ace hops. The result is refreshing warm-weather treat with notes of candied lemons and ginger spice.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.