Canundrum

So in my ongoing quest to overcome my bias against beer in cans, I picked up the mix packIMG_0521 pictured here from Oskar Blues Breweries (originally out of Colorado but now also brewing in North Carolina). I’m not sure whether the “canundrum” is which beer to try first or if it’s whether beer in a can is a worthy competitor for beer in a bottle, but I had already tried a couple of these beers, so it seemed like a good choice for this month.

I also decided to do some research on the virtues of cans vs. bottles.  A nice summary can be found in this original piece from The Atlantic by James Fallows and his follow-up a week later.  Fallows basically states my position of being surprised at finding good quality beer in cans and then shares some of the responses excoriating him for his ignorance.  In the end, the most persuasive argument in favor of cans over bottles comes down to the fact that a can is completely opaque to visible and ultraviolet light, so the beer is less likely to be spoiled by photochemical reactions.  The only argument against cans is that if you are drinking directly from the can, you will confuse your senses by smelling the exterior of the aluminum can, but that’s a problem that is easily solved by pouring the beer into a glass.  Many writers also note that all draft beer is stored and transported in what are, basically, great big aluminum cans, so if you can’t taste the metal in a draft beer after it has been poured into a glass, you shouldn’t be able to taste metal from a single-serving can either.  Add in the many other practical advantages of cans (better thermal conductivity for quick chilling, less packaging weight, easier opening, and less likelihood of breakage) and it becomes pretty clear that cans are the way to go.

I’ve previously reviewed Dale’s Pale Ale (which reminds me of Bass Ale) and Old Chub, a potent and very flavorful Scotch Ale.  I recently discovered that Old Chub also comes in a “Nitro” can with a little compressed air widget (also used sometimes by Guinness) to give the beer more of a creamy head as you pour it. One of the new beers in this mix pack was Pinner, which is described as a “Throwback IPA,” by which they mean not a throwback to some bygone era, but rather a lower alcohol session beer (so you can “throw back” more than one.)  IMG_0530The more distinctive new beer was Mama’s Little Yella Pils, the name of which immediately made me think of the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little HelperI have to think that was intentional for those of us of a certain age.  This was a nice pilsner for the warmer days that we’re finally starting to enjoy.

As an extra bonus for this canned beer set, I also came across a canned beer custom-brewed (or at least custom-packaged) for a local restaurant.  I had received a very generous gift card for Avenue N American Kitchen as a holiday gift from a former student, and Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I finally had an occasion to slip out without the offspring to enjoy an adult dinner out.  The evening turned out better than we might have imagined, since when we were led to our table we discovered our friends John and Rochelle seated at the next table where they were also enjoying an adult evening out while their twin sons attended a Bar Mitzvah party.  Since they had just placed their order, we slid our table next to theirs and made it into a foursome as we caught up on events in each others’ lives. To go with my dinner of scallops and risotto, I chose the eponymic Avenue N American Ale (brewed by Grey Sail Brewing of Westerly, RI) which came in a lovely, tall can with a stylized IMG_0524illustration of the Rumford, RI mill complex where the restaurant makes its home in what has been designated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

There are a couple of tangled chapters of chemistry history behind this designation, many details of which can be found here.  The Rumford section of East Providence ultimately derives its name from Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, known to chemistry and physics students for his careful experiments showing that heat is a form of energy and not a substance (“caloric”) that is contained within materials as had previously been thought.  Though Thompson was originally from Woburn, MA, he took the loyalist side during the Revolutionary War and spent his later life and did most of his important work in Europe–the title “Count” is from an appointment to the Holy Roman Empire.  Thompson’s success, however, allowed him to become a generous philanthropist who supported numerous institutions, including helping to found the Royal Institution of Great Britain (scientific home of chemists Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday) and establishing the Rumford endowed professorship for “Application of Science to the Useful Arts” at Harvard University.  This brings the story back to New England where the Rumford chair eventually came to be occupied by Eben Horsford.  Among his various branches of research, Horsford came up with an improved formulation of baking powder in the mid-1800s.  He and his partner established their production facilities in what is now East Providence, RI, and named it the Rumford Chemical Works, which in turn gave its name both to the surrounding neighborhood and to the brand of baking powder that is still available in supermarkets.  The manufacturing efforts have long since moved elsewhere and the mill complex is now home to a typical urban revitalization mix of condos, offices, and retail space, including our restaurant destination, where my scallops were amazing and the beer was pleasant in addition to giving me a fun story to relate.

So now, my only conundrum is what to write about next, but I can save that concern for another day as I take pleasure in the applications of science to the useful arts all around me.  Cheers!

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