On Saturday in that there London, the Camden Brewery celebrated the release of their new canned beer with a launch party. I’m sure Chris Hall will be writing about it shortly as he attended the shindig (as if he needed an excuse to get pissed in a brewery). Canned beer is beginning to take-off among the smaller UK brewers, with BrewDog having raced ahead to release their Punk IPA in a can in 2011.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Camden Brewery is one of the earliest adopters as they’re fairly keen on innovation; for example, another acquaintance of mine, pub landlord Chris Rowlands, raves ecstatically about how easy it is to stack Camden’s specially designed kegs (other breweries take note – on a busy match day, Chris will quite happily fill his compact cellar with Camden kegs; he can cram more of it in and get more of it out).
With cans making a comeback in the beer world, I was intrigued to learn that a small Welsh brewery had already beaten BrewDog and Camden to the punch by about 80 years. The Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli began experimenting with cans in the early 1930s, finally holding their own launch party in March 1936.
Beer cans had already been developed in the United States but it wasn’t thought there was much demand for it in the UK, with one of the nation’s largest brewers, Watney’s, speaking out against them. So why were cans pursued in this little corner of the British Isles?
South Wales was an industrial powerhouse at the turn of the century, with thousands of tonnes of coal, steel and tinplate being shipped out from Cardiff each week. The family that owned the Felinfoel Brewery also owned a tinplate works so it was arguably a business decision designed to help the tinplate industry rather than the cause of beer. Either way, it could be considered a shrewd move as it enabled Felinfoel to break into the export market as well as supply beers to soldiers overseas.
Felinfoel, and their neighbour Buckley’s Brewery who also experimented with canned beer at the same time, paved the way for BrewDog and Camden. The biggest concern for both breweries was the ‘tinny taste’ imparted by the metal, so they refused to release their beer in cans until a method of lacquering the inside was achieved. This was a development unique to the Welsh beer cans and the words of Felinfoel’s head brewer at that time sound very much like the sentiment of the real ale and craft beer movement today:
“The Americans have not made their can to suit the beer, but made their beer to suit the can. Their beer is being pasteurised and the result is that the natural ingredients are being destroyed. That is not and will not be the case with our beer.”