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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cans waiting to be filled on the new production line for canned beer at Uinta Brewing Company, Friday March 22, 2013 in Salt Lake City. On Tuesday, the northern Utah city of Hyde Park voted to allow beer sales.
Uinta Brewery begins canning craft beer

Beer » Uinta Brewery goes beyond the bottle — Tribune tasters say you can tell the difference

First Published Apr 02 2013 07:37 am • Last Updated Jul 07 2013 11:30 pm

To a beer maker, the can is a passport to places the glass bottle can’t go: Sports stadiums, airplanes, swimming pools.

So it’s no wonder craft brewers are increasingly going aluminum.

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Utah’s Uinta Brewing Company is the latest craft brewery to package beer in a can, joining Bohemian and Moab breweries. It installed a German-manufactured canning line in February, which is now producing six-packs —and some 12-packs —of four of its familiar brews: Baba Organic Black Lager, Hop Notch IPA, Wyld Organic Pale Ale and Cutthroat Pale Ale.

A canned Sum’r Organic Ale will be produced in May.

The new Uinta cans — which will cost the same as bottles — are available at Uinta’s brewery in Salt Lake City, 1722 S. Fremont Drive, and are being distributed to grocery stores and, in the case of the high-alcohol Hop Notch, to liquor stores.

Adding canning to Uinta’s bottling and keg production is part of a $16 million renovation to meet growing demand for beer. The new brewhouse, located at the existing Salt Lake City headquarters, will allow Uinta to sell 100,000 barrels worth of beer by next year — that’s a 67 percent increase from last year when it sold around 45,000 barrels. One barrel holds 31 gallons.

The new canning line took a year to build and is capable of filling 415 cans a minute — the bottling line produces only 120 a minute.

Despite its new canning capabilities, Uinta is not turning away from glass. In 2011, it redesigned its 12-ounce bottles to include points of a compass with the needle pointing East-West — a reflection of the direction of the mountain range for which the company is named and its love of the outdoors.

It’s that outdoor recreation — spaces where the bottle isn’t allowed or isn’t convenient — that led to canning.

"We’re hoping we can reach a different market," said Uinta president Will Hamill. "If you want to go river running or backpacking or golfing or if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you might want to have a can instead of a bottle."

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Can vs. bottle • Hamill said his panel of employee tasters believe the beer tastes the same whether it’s in a can or bottle, but they don’t know if over time the flavors will diverge.

To test that theory, The Salt Lake Tribune conducted its own unscientific taste experiment with bottled going head-to-head against canned for each type of beer. For our semi-blind sampling, staffers were given two plastic cups of the same beer — but one was from a bottle and the other from a can. Could they taste the difference? And, if so, which one was better?

Most testers said they detected a difference, and could tell whether it was canned or bottled almost 60 percent of the time. Tasters always thought the bottled version was better, describing it with words such as "pure," "robust" or "fuller."

Whenever testers thought they were drinking canned, the beer was described as watered down.

But canned beer’s reputation likely plays into the results.

"Most canned beer has traditionally been bad beer, so I’d say [I prefer] bottled. But who knows after Uinta and others start canning beer," wrote one taster.

But there were drinkers who preferred the taste of what they thought was canned beer: "A can is like a mini keg," wrote one staffer. And, according to another, canning preserves the flavor better.

Tasters also offered good ideas on where to take the new tins. Outside was the obvious choice — kayaking, skiing, snowboarding, biking, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, picnics and barbecues — anywhere it would be easier to pack out crushed cans than clanky bottles.

One taster said he would smuggle it into a Ute football game.

Other good places for canned beer, according to our not-so-traditional tasters: "the couch," a "concealed-carry" class, the "Utah Legislature" and the newsroom.

The results • Here’s a quick breakdown of our taste test results.

Baba: Seven out of 12 testers correctly guessed which beer was canned and a majority of those preferred the bottle. Some said they could tell because the canned had "more of a metallic, airy taste," or felt the canned version was "slightly less bodied." One staffer thought the canned version had more carbonation, resulting in a "slightly sharper, crisper flavor and mouthfeel." Others dubbed the canned more flavorful and "effervescent."

Wyld: This beer was a little harder to pin down: Seven of 13 testers were wrong. What they thought was the canned sample was really bottled.

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