Canned beer sure has come a long distance since I was 17, crushing Busch Light while leaping on a trampoline, a blend of harebrained and blotto that, astoundingly, left me with bones unbroken.
Mankind’s perseverance, despite adolescence, must be lauded.
During my wasted youth, canned beer equaled cheap lagers, light and watery, bought by the 30-pack from a drive-through liquor store (bless you, suburban Ohio) with a laissez-faire approach to abiding by the law. During high school and college, canned beer wasn’t cool: It was a means to a slurring end.
Better beer was in brown bottles, the glass encasing pale ales, stouts and other pleasures outside my price range. After exiting that four-year blur with a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism (bless you, Southeastern Ohio college), I also graduated to finer beer, bottled beer, the first stumbling steps as a writer with an intoxicating career.
As I fell down the fermentation wormhole, covering craft from every angle, I noticed that brewers were increasingly engaging in a kind of lowbrow cultural appropriation, cladding full-flavored ales in aluminum. There’s a litany of earth-first, business-savvy reasons why, but here’s the tl;dr: cans block light and oxygen, ensuring beer stays fresher, longer. Oskar Blues, with Dale’s Pale Ale, was a trailblazing metal head, in time followed by new-breed breweries such as Chicago’s Half Acre, along with OGs including Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams and New Belgium. (According to industry chronicler CraftCans.com, 500-plus breweries now can beer.)
With mass acceptance for canned beer, served at high-end restaurants like New York City's Lupulo and Virgin Airlines alike, you might think that every brewery would climb aboard the aluminum bandwagon. They are. They aren’t. Canning equipment can be pricey, like Lamborghini expensive, especially when pumping out mass volumes. Moreover, for entrenched brewers busting at the capacity seams, it’s often physically impossible to shoehorn in a canning line. Way I see it, brewers face two options: First, they can enlist a mobile canner, who totes equipment to the facility. Second, they can build a new brewery and install a spanking-new canning line. Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing opted for door number two.
Contemporary American hops, name-checking Citra, Chinook and Simcoe, supply rousing aromas of Pacific Northwest pine trees, tropical fruit and lemons.
Back in 1996, elementary school buddies Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski rebooted a Pepperidge Farm factory as a brewery, specializing in fresh, carefully constructed versions of European styles, done with American verve. That meant a hella refreshing Munich-style helles lager, Oktoberfest-appropriate Festbier and Prima Pils, an aromatically goosed, gorgeously bitter pilsner that’s one of my desert-island drinks. Victory also does well by the Belgians, with the Golden Monkey tripel and saison-inspired Helios Farmhouse Ale, and IPAs. I’m looking at you, HopDevil.
When I first drank the amber-toned IPA, sometime in the early ’00s, it was a depth charge to my taste buds—earthy and spicy, piney and caramel-sticky, full-bodied and old-man bitter. The beer tasted rousingly innovative. Until the rest of the brewing world caught up. Today, nearly every brewery aiming to stay fiscally afloat makes an IPA. Taste profiles have shifted toward citrus and melons, papayas and lychees, with immoderate bitterness fading from favor.
More to the point of my narrative: IPAs are now commonly found in cans, especially cultish quaffs like Other Half’s All Green Everything, the Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Pipeworks’ Ninja vs. Unicorn—yes, you want to see the can art. Cans are cool. And with its newly opened second brewery, in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania, Victory installed an Italian-built canning line capable of spinning out 150 cans a minute.
Into aluminum went Summer Love, Victory’s lemon-smacked blonde ale, then the earthy, citrusy Headwaters Pale Ale. This fall, Victory decided to can an IPA, settling not on HopDevil but a new creation, one aligned for modern times. Anointed Vital, and only available in cans, the IPA deviates from the HopDevil script. Whereas its predecessor is ruddy and berserk with bitterness, Vital slithers out (yup, I spill my canned beer into glassware) a see-through gold, filtration at its finest. Contemporary American hops, name-checking Citra, Chinook and Simcoe, supply rousing aromas of Pacific Northwest pine trees, tropical fruit and lemons. The flavors ride a similar road, but I’m most struck by the bitterness: clean and steady, humming along but never overwhelming, persistent after the dry finish.
Partnered with a relatively moderate ABV—strange to say, 6.5 percent is reasonable for today’s IPAs—Vital is very crushable, an IPA worthy of the everyday. Can you dig it? Yes, yes you can.