A sample of canned craft beer judged at the 2017 Can Can Awards.

As a long-time breweriana collector and craft beer enthusiast, I was ecstatic to come across a beer competition that was only for canned beer. To make things even more exciting, I learned that this national competition was located in my home town of Nashville. One thing led to another, and I was invited to judge in the most recent competition, which was held in May 2017.

Nathan Baker (founder) and Scott Mertie 2017 judge of the CAN CAN Awards.

The Can Can Awards is the premier beer competition focused solely on canned craft beers. The annual competition was founded by Nathan Baker. He and his wife, Colby, hold the competition in their home town of Franklin, TN (a suburb of Nashville). In 2016, the inaugural year of the competition, 250 beers were submitted for judging. In 2017, the number increased to over 400 different beers. As the popularity of the competition grows, Nathan expects the numbers to exceed to over 1,000 in coming years.

Judging at the 2017 CAN CAN Awards.

The Can Can Awards invites beer industry professionals to blindly sample canned beers submitted from breweries and brewpubs around the world. Each beer submitted is judged in a specific category designated by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). These categories are split between Ales, Lagers and other hybrids. Each major category is then divided into subcategories for each actual beer style.

The Can Can Awards competition is sanctioned by the BJCP and follows strict judging guidelines. Judges hold specific and applicable knowledge pertaining to the beers they are assigned.
The judge panel sips submitted beers and rates them in order to award medals to the three beers that best represent each individual category. Nathan had custom molds made for the winning medals, which represent a beer can lid. Each gold, silver, and bronze medal is cast and awarded to the winning breweries.

More judging of the CAN CAN Awards.

Among the 24 judges in this year’s competition, 5 were professional brewers, 10 had a BJCP rank of Recognized or higher, and others were Cicerones or industry experts. Judges are never able to critique any products for which they have any affiliation. A listing of this year’s winners, along with the previous year, can be found at www.cancanawards.com.

Tennessee Medal Winners at the 2017 Can Can Awards:

Fat Bottom’s Ida took Gold.

Other Belgian-Style – Gold
Fat Bottom Brewing Co.
Nashville, TN

Goldcrest Bock took Silver.

Bock – Silver
“Goldcrest Premium Bock”
Goldcrest Brewing Co.
Memphis, TN

Nashville Brewing Co. took Bronze.

Munich Helles – Bronze
“Nashville Lager”
Nashville Brewing Co.
Nashville, TN

Why cans? Nathan explains that cans eliminate light and generally hold less oxygen than bottles, which is much better for beer quality. Aluminum cans are also better for the environment. Nathan goes on to explain, “Even if you take recyclability out of the equation, they are still much cheaper to ship because they take up less room and weigh less, requiring fewer trucks and less fuel. In this new world of craft beer where the number of out-of-state and out-of-country breweries distributing is only increasing, mitigating the impact of transportation on the environment is a huge reason to advocate for cans”.

Fifteen years ago, most craft brewers would have laughed at the idea of having their beer in a can. There was a stigma within the industry that the only place for canned beer was with the national brands. Oscar Blues is widely recognized as the “brewery that broke the craft-canning barrier” with Dale’s Pale Ale in 2002. However, the popularity of canning craft beer didn’t really take off until the 2010s when the industry saw a reduction in capital investments of canning lines and the advent of mobile canning companies that come to your brewery to can.

Ultimately, Nathan is trying to elevate the conversation and speed up the adoption of canned craft beer. According to 2016 Q1 sales data, canned craft beer is still only 9% of the total craft beer market. In contrast, bottled craft beer comprises over 65% of the market. So while cans may be increasing in popularity, they are still not getting the recognition they deserve.

It is Nathan’s sincere hope that the Can Can Awards can help make a “dent” in the canned beer market. I think we can all pop a top to Nathan and his desire to expand craft-beer industry’s use of cans!

Written by Nashville local Scott R. Mertie, brewery historian, breweriana collector, and entrepreneur.