“We’ll be the last brewery in the US to use aluminum cans… Viva silica.”
The above quote came from Lagunitas honcho Tony Magee back in 2012 via his twitter feed. Call it the tweet that got the American craft community talking in earnest and not just arguing over which is better: Heady Topper or Pliny The Elder.
Tony’s stance was environmental. The simple fact of the matter is that mining aluminum out of bauxite is highly caustic, leaves behind gaping craters in the earth and condemns entire communities as uninhabitable. He also points out that there are no bauxite mines in the US and for good reason.
The pros of canning beer had already been well-established: costs less in raw materials, costs less to ship due to weight, recycles better than glass, can be taken places glass containers aren’t allowed. Sounds pretty green-initiative to us, right? To which Tony further pointed out the heavy volumes of diesel used to power the equipment that separates the aluminum from bauxite. “How much diesel do you think is in every aluminum can?”
This is all during a time when more and more craft brewers are installing canning lines in their breweries. To the Nader-Birkenstock-minded brewers out there, Magee’s comments could come like a spit in the face. To paraphrase from the original exposition, “You think you’re green? You aren’t green, granola-head!” What he actually said was, “I don’t mean harm to other small brewers who wanna use cans, but there are lies within lies whenever a thing’s proclaimed green…”
Doing my own research, it seems as if the true pros and cons for glass vs. aluminum almost balance out depending upon where you look. How much post-consumer content is either? How many kilowatts does it take to make one or the other? What are the energy savings of recycling each? Just how much is saved in freight? What percentage of either actually makes it to recycling? Just how recyclable is aluminum vs. glass? Each answer I find tends to tilt the see-saw back the other way.
In a May, 2016 talkback thread on beeradvocate.com, Tony himself answers the armchair pundits when it was announced that Lagunitas would actually be releasing beer in cans. This reversal stemmed from chiefly two things: cost and increased surface area for imagery. He acknowledges that “Aluminum is pretty darn green; its source material is anything but.” I’d like to believe that the overarching mindset there is “if you really want to be green with cans, keep recycling them, using them, saving with them and you ultimately need less bauxite mines.”
At the end of the day, it all comes back to the liquid inside of its container. Consider the acquiescently-titled 12th Of Never to be a fluid representative of Tony Magee himself; constantly challenging the notions of what is or should be. Being that this is American pale ale, the expectations are for a floral, easy-going beer.
Not this bad boy. Clear, pale blonde with a bubbly head, 12th erupts with very fresh tropical fruit hops on the nose; mango, passion fruit, a little Hawaiian pineapple plus a sweet pine resin note. Given the big hop profile, I was expecting an oily, sticky experience but this one is clean, light-bodied, crisp and very drinkable. A little bit of flower finally shows up alongside the giant smacks of pine, grapefruit peel, more mango and sweet malt. Flavor, body and session-strength AbV of only 5.5% combine for a beer designed for crushing.
Never is now. Debate away about glass vs. cans, just as long as you do so over a tasty beer such as this. Don’t forget to recycle when you’re done.