Never Say Never: Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cans

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Lots of big announcements in the beer world this week, as the Boson Beer Co. made public today their plan to release Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans this summer. I can’t seem to find the original source this morning, but I clearly recall several years ago that Boston Beer founder Jim Koch was quoted at one time that Samuel Adams beer would never be in cans, but over time his stance began to soften, and by 2010 he was warming to the idea. At that time, he told Beer Business Daily that he did believe that someday Samuel Adams would be in cans, and was still looking at the BPA in liners as a not-quite-resolved-yet issue. Once upon a time, their 2005 “Beer Bill of Rights” included as Article VI: “Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.”

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That issue has largely been solved with the use of an organic polymer, but Boston Beer has apparently taken it one step farther, designing their own type of can for the project, “the Sam Can.”

From the press release:

Samuel Adams announced today that for the first time it plans to offer Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a can – but not just any can. The new can design — the result of two years of ergonomic and sensory research and testing — aims to provide a drinking experience that is closer to the taste and comfort of drinking beer from a glass. The “Sam Can,” as the brewers call it, will hit shelves in early summer 2013, just in time for drinking occasions that call for the convenience of a can such as sporting events, boating or the beach.

“The debate over bottles vs. cans has been a sticking point for brewers in the craft beer community for years,” says Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “In the past, I had my doubts about putting Sam Adams in a can because I wasn’t convinced that Boston Lager would taste as good as it does from a bottle. But cans have changed. And I believe we’ve designed a can that provides a slight but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beer can.”

Koch and the other brewers at Samuel Adams first worked with can manufacturer Ball Corporation to understand can design, technology, and how to package premium beer in cans. The brewers then worked with a design team at IDEO, a recognized global design firm, and finally enlisted the help of sensory expert, Roy Desrochers of GEI Consultants. Desrochers, a recognized beer flavor expert for the Master Brewer’s Association of the Americas (MBAA), has provided counsel to the brewing industry for almost three decades. With Desrochers’ help, Koch studied every aspect of the new can, from how it could potentially impact the flavor of Samuel Adam’s flagship Boston Lager to the ergonomics of how the beer flows from the can and hits the taste receptors on a drinker’s tongue.

“I worked with Jim and the other brewers at Sam Adams on an ergonomic and flavor study to understand the benefits of the new can,” says Desrochers. “The flared lip and wider top of the new Sam Can work in concert to deliver the beer in a way that makes the flavor closer to drinking out of a glass. Although subtle, this can delivers a more pronounced, more balanced flavor experience – something that was very important to the brewers. The extended lip of the can also creates a smoother, more comfortable overall drinking experience.”

The difference in drinking out of the new can as compared to a standard can will be modest, but drinkers should notice enhanced flavors and a more comfortable experience. The position of the can opening and wider lid, naturally opens up the mouth allowing for more air flow and positions the drinker’s nose closer to the hop aromas of the beer. A little known fact is that most of what we think we taste is actually what we smell – that’s why it’s hard to taste food with a stuffed up nose. Drinkers also noticed that the extended, curved lip of the can delivered the beer to the front of the palate to maximize the early enjoyment of the malt sweetness.

Koch’s end goal in developing a new can is to provide drinkers with the best possible Boston Lager drinking experience when they prefer the convenience of a can, like on the golf course or at the beach, without compromising the taste of his first and favorite beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Celebrating the flavors and ingredients in Boston Lager is what also led to the development of the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass in 2007, also the result of a lengthy research project to enhance the beer drinking experience.

“The new Sam Can required a million dollar investment in special equipment tooling along with time, research and testing. This new can will also cost more than the standard can to produce. It may seem a little crazy to make that kind of investment, but we felt the slight improvement in the drinking experience was worth the expense. We made decisions based on the beer, not on the bottom line,” Koch explains. “We’ve done tastings here at the brewery, with Sam Adams drinkers and our experts, “and now, we’re proud to launch Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans. We have a vessel that gives our drinkers the best tasting Samuel Adams in a can.”

Among the many advantages of cans is that drinkers prefer cans in certain circumstances where bottles are often not allowed or convenient, such as beaches, parks, pools, sporting events, boats and airplanes. Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans will be available in 12-packs nationwide beginning early summer, for a suggested retail price of $14.99-17.99 (price varies by market).

You can also read additional information about what went in to the design of the can at BostInno and also at Boston.com’s Sam Adams: Now (finally) in a can.

Of course, the fact that many other regional breweries have put their beer in cans, too — Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Brooklyn Brewery, RedHook, etc. — has to have been a factor, too. Still, for can fans this is great news. Cans have outsold beer in bottles for the big brewers for decades, and at least as long as 1980, if not longer, so it only makes sense that as craft brewers grow larger that such a popular package would become part of their portfolios, as well, as they continue to take a bigger and bigger piece of the nationwide beer pie.

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