Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
There is a beer writer named Bryan Roth whose industry commentary I really enjoy reading. His blog — This is Why I’m Drunk — is a great place for analysis and beer culture observations. Roth’s musings are generally upbeat but sometimes scathing—all in an effort to celebrate what’s right about craft beer and at the same time challenge the industry to improve the parts that have grown tired or boring. In one post from last July he wrote, “Putting craft beer into a can is no longer a news story. It’s a press release.”
This is probably true when an established brand already available in bottles is suddenly obtainable in cans. Stone Brewing Co. putting its venerable IPA in cans, for example, was probably not a stop-the-presses moment when it happened in May 2016. It was already available in bottles and on draft in over half the country, and several other craft beers were already available in cans (with many, many more to follow).
Yes, cans are considered by many to be superior to their bottled brethren. Cans are lighter, more ecologically friendly, and keep beer fresher for longer. Those facts were established long ago, however, and anyone who follows craft beer can probably recite them from memory. Cans being the better vessel is not necessarily new news.
What is newsworthy, though, is when a brewery that doesn’t already package its beer for home transport begins canning. And that is exactly what happened this week in Northwest Arkansas. Bike Rack Brewing Co. officially introduced cans of Urban Trail Golden Ale and Slaughter Pen IPA, and New Province Brewing Co. did the same with its Fallen Queen Belgian Style Witbier.
Of course there are several Northwest Arkansas breweries already canning. By now people are accustomed to picking up a six-pack of Ozark APA or Core Arkansas Red (to name only a couple) at their favorite liquor stores.
Bike Rack and New Province entering the canned market is significant, however, because their beers have only been available in their taprooms and at select bars and restaurants throughout the region. To this point home consumption has been limited to growler fills. And for most of us down in Washington County, driving to Bentonville or Rogers for a growler of beer is too much of a hassle. Now cans from the remote brewing outposts north of the county line will soon be available closer to home. That’s certainly newsworthy to me.
Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
As for the beer, these are three wonderful additions to the home drinking repertoire.
Bike Rack recently hired Josiah Moody to captain its new 20-barrel brewhouse inside the 8th Street Market in Bentonville. His influence is already showing, as evidenced by the wonderfully delicious Slaughter Pen IPA. The 6.3% ABV beer is hop-forward with a fruity characteristic that stands in contrast to the resinous pine attributes many people associate with West Coast IPAs. In fact, the hazy pour and juicy disposition of Slaughter Pen IPA reminds me of the emerging style known as New England IPA—which is defined as a hazy pale beer with a juicy hop character and soft mouthfeel. I’m not sure that it’s the style Bike Rack was shooting for here (the haze could have been due to my own overly-vigorous pour), but it’s delightful.
Urban Trail Golden Ale is Bike Rack’s gateway to the craft beer world. It’s an unassuming offering that weighs in at 5% ABV and 16 IBUs. The light body and low bittering make it a perfect companion to just about any hot weather activity. There’s not much else to say about this one other than it’s a well-executed example of a light-bodied blonde ale. The can design is similar to the IPA, with the updated brewery logo front and center, and bold, easy-to-read text that signifies what’s inside. The only difference is color scheme—Slaughter Pen IPA incorporates a green palette and Urban Trail Golden Ale uses gold (duh!). Overall it’s a nice look.
New Province made a splash last month when it posted the can design for Fallen Queen Belgian Style Witbier via social media. BLKBOXLabs, which has built quite a portfolio of brewery designs, knocked this one out of the park. An image of a crimson-haired beauty in descent takes center stage, with the name of the beer positioned dead center. The updated New Province logo is subtly displayed on the back of the can, with key facts about the beer listed there as well. The beer itself is a classic take on a Belgian witbier. Fallen Queen lists an ABV of 5% with 10 IBUs. It’s light and crisp with notes of orange peel and coriander. The Belgian yeast lends a peppery kick that’s common for the style. Brewer Kort Castleberry did a nice job with this one.
As for availability, Bike Rack is offering its cans exclusively through its two taprooms for now. The brewery will start canning for distribution in the next couple of months. And owner Derek McEnroe tells me New Province will start appearing at retail accounts throughout Northwest Arkansas starting next week. Fallen Queen is available for purchase inside its Rogers taproom in the interim.
“For years—really, years—writers covering the beer industry have written stories on a near monthly basis about this ‘hot, new trend’ in craft beer: breweries putting beer into cans,” wrote Roth. He continued by saying, “…it’s time to move beyond stories highlighting when a brewery puts liquid into a can.”
Well, I’m sorry—but in this case I just can’t help myself. Two upstart breweries that have invested significant capital in order to take their beer to the public in ways they couldn’t before is newsworthy to me. These are well designed and well executed examples of what craft beer in cans can be, and Northwest Arkansans all of a sudden have more options when spending their craft beer dollar on-the-go.
Congratulations to Bike Rack and New Province for the newest additions to their brewing portfolios!