Beer: Jai Alai Brewery: Cigar City Brewing Co. Style: American IPA ABV: 7.5 percent
The journey from brew kettle to drinking vessel is long and hard, and not all beer gets there in perfect condition. To taste right, a beer must battle many foes along the way: diacetyl, a yeast compound that tastes like butter; di-methyl sulfide, which can impart flavors of creamed corn; One Million Moms. Beer has many enemies, but the most evil of our favorite drink's foes are also the most abundant: sunlight and oxygen.
When exposed to ultraviolet light, certain compounds in hops can give off a skunky flavor and aroma -- if you've ever tasted a Corona, Heineken, or other beer served in a clear or green bottle, you know it well. When exposed to too much oxygen, beer can develop off-flavors that range from honey and sherry to printer paper and old cardboard. Fortunately, there's a container that provides perfect protection from these antagonists that more and more craft brewers are buying into: the can.
Cans are the ultimate in beer-packaging technology. In addition to providing perfect protection from sunlight and oxygen, cans are easier to ship, store, and recycle. They cool more quickly, don't shatter upon impact, are outdoor-friendly, and look cool when crushed upon one's forehead. Recognizing this, SanTan Brewing Co. (which packages all its brew in cans) organized the first AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival in 2011, inviting brewers from across the land to send their sexy cans in our direction. The festival gives Arizona drinkers the chance to try some of the best-made beers in the state along with some canned brews that never see our shelves. This year's AmeriCAN will be held May 18 at the Scottsdale Civic Center and will feature such out-of-staters as 21st Amendment Brewery, DC Brau Brewing Co., Uncommon Brewers, and Tallgrass Brewing Co. I'll feature a few of these delectable cans in the weeks leading up to the festival. http://www.cannedcraftbeerfest.com/event.html
Which brings us to Cigar City Brewing and its flagship IPA, Jai Alai. The Florida-based brewery is a new invitee to AmeriCAN, having just begun packaging its beers in cans last October using a canning line it bought from New Belgium Brewing Co. An IPA for Lupulin-lovers, Jai Alai (pronounced HI-lie) blends six different hop varietals in the kettle, then is dry-hopped with Simcoe. It's named for a game native to the Basque region of Spain (and once popular in parts of Florida) played with curve mitts and balls launched at speeds edging 200 miles per hour. This moniker is appropriate, as a nose placed near this beer feels as if it's being bombarded with speedily launched aroma particles. Resins in the form of sugar-covered tangerines and sticky grass slam against the olfactory walls.
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All the rough hop intensity of the nose, however, is massaged by malts in the flavor. Balance is apparent here, with caramelized sweetness evening out the grassy, orange-heavy notes of the hops. High carbonation, moderate bitterness, and a noticeable flash of alcohol warmth add to the brew's refreshing qualities. I could imagine drinking it in Florida on a hot day -- but I won't have to. Drinking it during the AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival will require zero brain effort other than a bit from the "pleasure" portion.
More on cans and the beers that go in them next week.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.