The humble aluminum can, looked down upon as a necessary evil for picnics, river trips or wherever glass is a major drawback, has come of age. Once rightly criticized for adding a lightly metallic quality to its contents, today's coated versions are as neutral as glass. In fact, this air-tight vessel makes the ideal delivery unit for your favorite brew, being impervious to harmful sunlight as well. Think of it as a mini-keg. But perhaps the best marriage of current can-technology is when it pairs with brew from Ireland and the United Kingdom. The pint container is just the right size, and with the introduction of the widget, it makes for the perfect pub pour.
Guinness rolled out the widget back in 1988. When the can is opened, this clever device releases a mixture of gas resulting in a glass of brew that rivals a true hand-pulled pint. Other breweries have taken advantage of the technology as well. Although it has been almost two years since their brewery at Strangeways in Northern England closed its doors, ending a 230-year reign, Boddingtons Pub Ale, the "Cream of Manchester," is still going strong with new digs in South Wales. Lighter in color and texture than Guinness, their draughtflow system ale is a milky delight with vanilla malt flavors and a nice light hop bite on the finish.
From its base in Bury St. Edmund in Suffolk, Green King has been brewing beer and operating pubs for over 200 years, with Abbot Ale serving as their flagship. This lightly carbonated brew has no widget and produces almost no head on top, but what it lacks in creamy froth, it more than makes up for in full, rich flavor: big toasty malt and nutty caramel with light but nicely balanced hops. The overall impression is of a top quality, cask-conditioned ale: silky smooth, just a bit creamy, with stone fruit accents. If you like Newcastle Nut Brown but rightly worry about the shelf life of their clear bottled brew, try a can of Abbot--always fresh, never skunky.
The last British entry sports a red triangle on the label, which lays claim to being England's first registered trademark. The Bass & Co. Pale Ale also claims to incorporate a special Pub Pour system to create "a robust long-holding head." Yeah, and the check is in the mail. As near as I could tell, the Bass can is just a can with no widget or any other discernible system. Still, it's a nice fresh brew, not as full-flavored as the Abbot, but unmistakably British: smooth malt, very soft hops with bright citrus undertones. Definitely a worthy effort.