The Great Australian Tinnie Taste Test 2018

Illustrations by Barry Patenaude.
Illustrations by Barry Patenaude. 

Crack. Fizz. Gulp. Ahhhhhh. Is there a drinking experience more classically Australian than ripping the ring-pull off a beer?

"The visceral pleasure from that first crack of a beer can is identical to popping a champagne cork," says wine and drinks writer Mike Bennie. "There's also huge appeal in the tinnie's nostalgia factor."

Australian beer has been sold in cans since 1958 and anyone who remembers a time when tobacco companies could sponsor the cricket will also recall Victoria Bitter's "I've got it now" commercials featuring sweaty blokes drinking tinnies and bogging four-wheel-drives.

Although most beer cans sold in Australia are from multinational breweries, there has been a massive increase in the number of craft-style cans over the past five years. And over the past 12 months, the growth has been even more explosive.

Time, then, to rally a panel of experts for The Great Australian Tinnie Taste Test 2018 and identify the best local cans on the market.

Can-do approach: (clockwise from main) Louise Dowling, Mike Bennie, Jemima McDonald, William Wilson (obscured), Neal ...
Can-do approach: (clockwise from main) Louise Dowling, Mike Bennie, Jemima McDonald, William Wilson (obscured), Neal Cameron, Liam Pereira and Jordan McDonald. Photo: Anna Kucera

"I remember when we did the first Good Food tinnie taste three years ago, we struggled to find 10 good cans of Australian beer," says Liam Pereira, general manager of Sydney Beer Week. "Now the amount of quality tins you can get your hands on is amazing."

It's difficult to obtain an exact number of Australian-made tinnies on the market as more are released each week. Seven hundred is a conservative estimate. Even Coopers recently announced it would release its flagship pale ale, one of Australia's most popular beers, in tinnie format from the beginning of August. Coopers sales and marketing director Cam Pearce said increasing consumer demand for cans was the reason behind the decision.

"As much as I like to get nerdy over smelling beer in a glass, I also love walking down the street with a tinnie in my hand," says Pereira. "Cans are also great for so many other reasons. They're lighter to transport, they chill down faster, they take up less space and ultraviolet light can't spoil the beer."

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"If you ask what are the advantages of [bottling beer in] glass over cans, you'll find there are none whatsoever," says Neal Cameron, the beer expert responsible for installing Australia's first craft beer canning line at the Australian Brewery, Rouse Hill, in 2012.

"Six years ago, a lot of people said 'Cans aren't going to work' but I was adamant they were the future," says Cameron. "Now here we are."

The introduction of mobile canning units to Australia in 2016 has also influenced the amount of domestic tinnie options in bottle shops and bars. Instead of investing $300,000 to install an in-house canning line, brewers can hire a canning truck that will come to them for a day.

Jordan McDonald and Callan Boys.
Jordan McDonald and Callan Boys. Photo: Anna Kucera

"Brewers are canning their whole line of beers now," says Pereira. "With the rise of mobile canning, it's like 'Oh shit, I have one day to can as much as possible – I might as well try and put everything in a tin!' You'll notice a lot of them have stick-on labels wrapped around a plain can."

Marketing is a vital part of modern brewing and tinnies provide a greater canvas for producers to create eye-catching labels and tell the story of their beer and brewery. Punters keen to drink beer from independently owned Australian brewers should also look for the "Certified Independent" seal on new-release tins. Launched in May by the Independent Brewers Association, 84 members of the organisation have already registered to incorporate the yellow and black seal on their bottles, taps, merchandise and cans.

Now. Onwards with The Great Australian Tinnie Taste Test 2018.

Cans were disguised, but discussion was encouraged during the blind tasting.
Cans were disguised, but discussion was encouraged during the blind tasting. Photo: Anna Kucera

The panel

Liam Pereira – co-owner of Dave's Travel and Events; general manager of Sydney Beer Week; general manager of The Institute of Beer, co-ordinating Cicerone (certified beer sommelier) training in Australia.

William Wilson – beverage manager of Sydney International Convention Centre; certified sommelier; chief steward of the Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show.

Jordan McDonald – beer-buyer and co-owner of Frankie's Pizza By The Slice, Sydney.

The cans were disguised during blind tasting so the panel members didn't get to see the many eye-catching labels.
The cans were disguised during blind tasting so the panel members didn't get to see the many eye-catching labels. Photo: Anna Kucera

Louise Dowling – beer-buyer and co-owner of P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants, Newtown.

Mike Bennie – wine and drinks journalist; co-owner of P&V.

Jemima McDonald – bar manager at Earl's Juke Joint, Newtown; TAFE microbrewing student.

Neal Cameron – chair of judges for the Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show; co-ordinator of TAFE Certificate III in microbrewing; director and co-owner of The Institute of Beer.

The Good Food panel was chosen to represent a range of industry and beer appreciation backgrounds. Cans were disguised, but discussion was encouraged during the blind tasting at Mike Bennie's office above P&V Wine + Liquor. Beers were scored out of 50 by each taster, with points awarded equally for drinkability and complexity. (Final scores are the aggregate divided to give a number out of 10.)

"Drinkability is the idea that something has the ability to be drunk with ease and it's inherent in all great products," Bennie says. "Complexity is where things start to get interesting, because we've all got our own value judgments. A very small batch IPA [India pale ale] might have very high complexity levels, but the drinkability is quite low. Then something that's super smashable might have no complexity at all.

"The binary system means a crushable beer won't win, necessarily, and neither will a turbo-charged beer steeped in one type of element."

Sixty-nine Australian tins and one collaboration from across the pond were tasted over six hours. Some of the best beer palates in the country cracked creaming soda brews, mandarin beers and chocolate stouts. Chilli ales, jasmine-flavoured creations and lavender lager. Beers that performed the best were mostly straight-up balanced brews that didn't force a particular flavour. Strange-flavoured beers were deemed an interesting novelty, but when it came to drinkability, many of them weren't the kind of cans you would want to buy in a six-pack and sit on over an evening.

Most beers were from independent brewers, with four mainstream beers (Victoria Bitter, Melbourne Bitter, Carlton Pure Blonde and Tooheys New) included to see how they fared against the craft-style brews. All four placed in the bottom 15.

The target was to taste 100 cans that provided a wide snapshot of the domestic brewing market. However, when palate (and general) fatigue kicked in, stumps had to be pulled. (It's with regret that brilliant independent brewers such as Batch, Modus Operandi, Akasha and Bridge Road were not tasted on the day, in spite of a sterling effort from the panel.)

It should also be noted that this taste test is about creating a conversation about  what makes a good beer. It is not clinical, definitive, technical judging. "The best part of doing the taste test last time was the discussion surrounding the beers, for sure," says Pereira.

Here are the top 20 tins from our marathon session.