The tinnie taste test: Experts put 21 cans of beer to the test

Callan Boys
Testers at work: Julia Sewell, Richard Hargreave, Liam Pereira, Mike Bennie and Huon Hooke exercise their palates and pens.
Testers at work: Julia Sewell, Richard Hargreave, Liam Pereira, Mike Bennie and Huon Hooke exercise their palates and pens. Photo: Christopher Pearce

You can get it jumpin', you can get it pumpin'. You can get it pressin' a suit. A hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer. And the best cold beer is in a can.

The tinnie's popularity in Australia has exploded over the last couple of years. Cans weigh less than bottles and pack tighter, reducing the financial cost and carbon footprint of transportation. They also keep a better brew – beer is sensitive to light and an aluminium can is completely light-sealed. Brown-tinted bottles help reduce light damage to the organic compounds in beer, but nothing like a can, err, can.

However, I suspect the core of the recent tinnie tsunami has more to do with the RSL chic favoured by chambray shirt and Converse shoe-wearers more than anything else (and I include myself in this group).

Callan Boys pours for the blind taste test.
Callan Boys pours for the blind taste test. Photo: Christopher Pearce

It was time for a blind tinnie taste test with some of the sharpest palates in the country. Twenty-one cans were sourced (it could have been MANY more, but you've got to cap it somewhere) and we hunkered down for an afternoon of country music and beer tasting at Frankie's Pizza By The Slice in Sydney to see how some of the old standards stood up to the new-school craft brews (not too well, it turned out).

Each beer had to be poured into cups for hygiene reasons and it was then marked out of 20 points for complexity and interest and another 20 points for "drinkability" (is there much point in a delicious, complex beer if it's too hoppy to drink?). Everyone's scores were combined and divided to come up with an overall score out of 100.

Turns out wine nuts and hop heads both LOVE sour beer. The Sixpoint Rad – a fruit juice and ale blend from the US – scored highest on the day.

"That's going to annoy consumers, beer lovers, everyone," says wine writer Mike Bennie. "They'll be on the Crafty Pint website going nuts."

The Panel

Mike Bennie: Wine writer and presenter. Self-described grape guerilla and vineyard thriller.

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Richard Hargreave: Sommelier at the three-hatted Momofuku Seiobo and former Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Sommelier of the Year.

Huon Hooke: Award-winning wine writer of over 30 years and Good Food and Epicure columnist.

Jordan McDonald: "Beer Monster" and live-music booker at Frankie's Pizza By The Slice.

Liam Pereira: Store manager of Camperdown Cellars and craft-beer baron.

Julia Sewell: Sommelier at the two-hatted Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney and first woman to dux the Australian court of Master Sommeliers exams.

The taste test (listed below in order of tasting):

Stiegl Bier, Austria, Pilsner, $5.99 500ml

30/100

Bennie: The overt sweetness kills some or most of the "drinkability".

McDonald: It's that common thread with all domestic bad-boys – a sweet nose.

Hargreave: I find this beer quite difficult to submit to. I'm going to score it quite low.

Bennie: You'll find the drier lagers will be much higher in drinkability.

McDonald: My issue with the drinkability thing though, is that sometimes all you want to do is destroy an imperial stout.

Pereira: That's the point. Drinkability is going to be different for everyone.

Hargreave: I don't think you'll get a better scoring system than this for what we're trying to judge here.

Hite Max, Korea, Lager, $2.50, 355ml

49/100

McDonald: At least this one offers you something that's kind of enticing on the nose. I think the last beer was just the dud version of this, with less zip and zap.

Bennie: Right in the slot for session drinking and very high in smashability, but you have to accept it's far from complex and interesting. But, hey, that's often the point of beer! Touch sweet, though.

Sewell: It becomes better as you drink it, not worse.

Pereira: Super-smashable and would be very drinkable for some, but not my style. It's just carbonated water with no hops or malts.

Hooke: Thin, simple, pissy beer. Boring.

Yo-Ho Suiyoubi No Neko, Japan, Witbier, $6.50 350ml

59/100

Pereira: For me, this is higher on the drinkability scale, although it does have a soapy aftertaste. Not the best example of Belgian wit-style.

Bennie: Wheaty whiffs! The wheat-driven style here gives interest and some complexity, but it's not overly worked or interesting.

Hargreave: Scoring higher for the aromatics alone. Palate short and sticky again. Still too sweet for me.

Australian Brewery Saison D'Heretique, Australia, Saison, $6.00 355ml

75/100

McDonald: Finally some hops.

Bennie:Fruit sald smells. Hop-heads will like it. Big sour tang, whips the palate clean.

McDonald: This is super interesting though.

Bennie: It smells terrible but it tastes quite fresh and zingy.

McDonald: That's one acidic beer, man.

Bennie: Hops are traditionally a preservative, not a primary ingredient. For me it's similar to oak in wine. A flavouring but also used for preserving beer. The whole IPA thing was about getting beer from the UK to India. So an over-hopped beer, for me, is the same as an over-oaked wine.

Hooke: It's by far the most tasty beer yet.

Oettinger Pils, Germany, Pilsner, $3.99 500ml

18/100

Sewell: It's really metallic.

Hooke: It's definitely a spitting beer not a swallowing beer.

McDonald: This a two out of 40 for me. One point for drinkability. I'd do it if it was the only thing going.

Hargreave: Wow, so you've given them a mark for just managing to get it in the can?

Sixpoint Rad, United States, Fruit Beer / Radler $6.99, 473ml  

OVERALL AND DRINKABILITY WINNER

80/100

Pereira: I question how much of this is beer, but I love this.

Bennie: Go tell that to the Cantillon family, Liam.

Hargreave: It's awesome. Not over the top with the natural yeast, but there's a little bit of that lovely yeasty character adding complexity. There's a great child-like pleasure in drinking it. 

Sewell: It's questionable as a "tinnie" but it's my preference. It doesn't taste false either. It tastes like real fruit.

Hooke: It's an alcoholic fruit drink. And a good one, too.

Bennie: It's sour beer at its best.

Hargreave: That in a can, in the park in the afternoon, would be so delicious.

Victoria Bitter, Australia, Lager, $2.80 375ml

40/100

Hooke: It smells like a beer mat.

McDonald: It covers the entire palate with its plasticine thing but also coats your teeth, kind of. It's a weird one.

Pereira: Out of all the lagers we've had it's probably the cleanest and the driest.

Hargreave: It's something I can imagine drinking in an RSL on a Saturday and having eight or  nine of them. Sorry, I mean three or four.

Evil Twin Hipster Ale, United States, American Pale Ale, $6.50 355ml

COMPLEXITY AND INTEREST WINNER

74/100

Bennie: This is where hops becomes off-putting for me. If you're talking before about that sour beer being not beer, to me this isn't beer, it's a hops-based beverage. Which is fine, because I know people like it. I accept that.

Hargreave: On the nose, they've used pretty nice hops, but the palate is just aggressive.

Pereira: See, this is my style of beer, but I can see how other people wouldn't dig it.

McDonald: It's completely unbalanced, but intentionally so.

Hooke: It's a sipping beer, loaded with character. Definitely not a session beer.

XXXX Gold, Australia, Lager, $2.99 375ml

18/100

Hooke: High quaffable, but who'd want to? Industrial swill.

Pereira: I would not touch this with a 10-foot pole. I would rather be sober than drink this.

Hargreave: It just tastes like something that's held together with chemicals.

Bennie: You need a fishing tinnie, a mate you kind of like a bit, the Hawkesbury River, and a ton of ice to get through one of those.

Mountain Goat Summer Ale, Australia, Summer Ale, $4.99 375ml

68/100

Sewell: There's a slight bitter element and somewhat savoury cheese rind flavours. Also an odd sense of chilli.

Hargreave: I think this goes down quite well. It's like an introduction to craft beer.

Hooke: The balance is good isn't it?

Sewell: It has a milky sort of texture too.

Hargreave: Yeah. It has texture without being cloying.

Founders All-Day IPA, United States, American IPA, $5.50 355ml

48/100

Bennie: It smells like kind of decaying flowers.

Pereira: It has a real metallic finish too.

Bennie: It feels like a fake craft beer. Like it's been constructed. It's giving me a headache.

Hooke: It has a dull, flat palate. And the finish is dirty. Possibly stale stock, post use-by date.*

Hot Water Brewing Co Porter, New Zealand, Porter, $8.99 355ml

49/100

Sewell: It has a very Vegemite finish.

Hooke: A bit like Toohey's Old, but not as good.

Pereira: For a beer with this richness of flavour I'd like something with a bit more mouthfeel and creaminess.

McDonald: It's like those long black coffees on ice you get in the States.

Pereira: But, the ice has started to melt.

Bennie: It's how I like my men. Thin and bitter like Callan.

Beavertown Neck Oil, Session IPA, England, Session IPA, $7.80 330ml

62/100

Bennie: This is everything gross about craft beer.

Hargreave: It has the texture of that scum that sits on the wash on the beach.

Pereira: Who eats that? How do you know what that tastes like?

Hargreave: I was bullied as a child.

Hooke: It's very refreshing though.

Sewell: It's quite bready. But in a bread from the freezer way.

McDonald: It has that Galaxy hop thing going on where it's massively tropical.

Young Henry's Natural Lager, Australia, Unfiltered Lager, $3.99 375ml

53/100

Hargreave: You know what it tastes like? It tastes like a really shit Aussie beer that's had hops added to it.

Pereira: It's drinkable though.

Sewell: The finish takes on the character of sugar cane juice and becomes tiring.

Hooke: It's balanced, good drinkability, but not very characterful.

Bennie: It's a decent attempt at "craft" without fireworks but drinks pretty well.

Six String Dark Red IPA, Australia, American-style Red IPA, $5.99 375ml

71/100

Bennie: Oh my god. It's so syrupy.

Pereira: See, this has got the body that the last dark beer didn't have.

Hargreave: It tastes a lot more natural too. I quite enjoy this. There's not too much coffee, there's not too much of that molasses character. It's not something you'd want to drink on a hot summer's day, but it's definitely drinkable.

Hooke: I like this a lot. The effervescence is quite strong. Big flavour and quite a bitter finish but not overdone. A superb sipping beer.

Mornington Pale, Australia, American Pale Ale, $4.99 330ml

70/100

Hargreave: I really like this one. It's really, really drinkable. It's a very subtle pale ale. Great balance. Really refreshing.

Pereira: There's nothing wrong with it. There's no faults, there's nothing off-putting.

Hooke: It treads the middle ground successfully between character and gulp-ability.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, United States, Lager, $3.99 473ml

27/100

Pereira: There's that sweet corn aspect again.

Sewell: It's like trying to eat too much dessert. It almost smells like bubblegum.

Bennie: It tastes like bubblegum. Soupy texture as well.

Hargreave: It's soupy as hell, isn't it? And the front of the palate has this gloopiness.

Hooke: It has a watery flavour that's very short. Mercifully short!

Coopers Dr Tim's, Australia, English Pale Ale, $3.60 375ml

58/100

Bennie: Sessionability to the max! I'm going to finish this one.

Sewell: No flavour stands out. Bland, but inoffensive.

McDonald: There's kind of no detectable hop, as with all the other shit beers, but it's not insulting.

Sewell: It's not cloying or sweet.

Pereira: Yeah, there's nothing wrong about it. The sweetness has been the main thing for me with a lot of them.

Hooke: A bit boring. Very quaffable but I wouldn't be interested in drinking it.

Bennie: It would be an amazing beer for shotgunning.

Tun Bitter, United States, Lager, $2.59 355ml 

53/100

Bennie: Jesus. That's weird smelling.

McDonald. It's definitely got some smoke on the nose.

Bennie: It's quite drinkable in its light washiness.

McDonald: It's almost got a whisky thing going on.

Bennie: Yeah, like it's been aged in a barrel or something.

Hooke: There's something quite smoky and peaty about it.

McDonald: Either that, or you know how they say some people liken peat to burning tyres, maybe it's just the most artificial shit ever and we're like "yes, it's been aged quite well"

Pereira: It keeps drawing me back because I can't figure out what's going on. If that's their ploy, they've done well.

Pistonhead, Sweden, Lager, $3.59 330ml

23/100

Bennie: It tastes like a big dirty tank.

Hargreave: There's just nothing nice about that.

Pereira: It's like a Stalinist Russian beer – it'll get you drunk but that's about it.

Sewell: I feel that if you drank a whole can, you would get an immediate hangover.

Hooke: Seems like it's out of its use-by period.** I dislike this.

Foster's, Australia, Lager, $3.39 375ml

24/100

McDonald: I can't wait to see what you've got us finishing on. It's either going to be the dog's balls or the holy grail.

Pereira: Whoah. That's so metallic it would beep on a metal detector.

Hargreave: Is that from the time spent in a can?

Pereira: No, nowadays there should be not be any metallic characteristics coming from the can. It's probably old hops.

Hooke: It's like a mouthful of cotton wool.

Bennie: It also starts to dry out your skull a bit. Imagine having a can of that and how your head would feel.

Pereria: You'd be like the dude who turns into dust at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. 'He chose ... poorly'.


*It wasn't but turns out the Evil Twin was.

**It wasn't either.