Since the recent release of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four has already garnered a critical consensus of “stank pile of doody” (even he tweet-voiced his displeasure about the final version), with the new film currently clutching to a Double Dragonian rating of 9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, I’d rather discuss a crew of comic-book superheroes faring much Hulkier at the momen—
Little Boy on Street: Are you referring to the Cantastic Pour, mister?
Me: Yes, Billy! I am referring to the Cantastic Pour!
An ever-growing brigade of breweries combating catastrophic crime by canning their beers, the Cantastic Pour is presently at 523 members—up from only around 50 in 2009. (POW! BOOM! WHAM!) We chatted with one of the newest aluminum-clad craft crusaders on Monday—Radiant Pig, which just unveiled the packaged version of its light, low-alcohol Junior IPA—and we’re following today with Queens’ Finback Brewery, set to launch a can-only series of IPAs called Oscillation on August 22.
Finback, which has impressed me often since opening at the beginning of last year, chose the popular mobile-canning path like Other Half and KelSo for the foray, partnering with Danville, Pennsylvania’s We Can to package the first installment of Oscillation, aptly dubbed 001, at its facility in Glendale. This is my chat with Basil Lee, one of the brewery’s two owners, which happened the day after two updated sour ales previously only on draft were released in bottles: Plumb & Proper, dry and dark, brewed with plums, aged in red wine barrels with Brettanomyces; and Starchild, light and tart, dosed with grapefruit peel and Lactobacillus.
Niko Krommydas: You opened Finback at the start of 2014. Did you always intend to can your beer at some point?
Basil Lee: We’ve definitely wanted to put our beer in cans since the beginning, but essentially it took us almost two years to get to it. We have a large-scale to-do list at the brewery that gets longer by the week, and as we’ve grown we’ve tried to hit things on it. Like on day one we wanted to install a big oak foudre to make wild beers. That’s why we launched a Kickstarter when we opened. It did get funded but ultimately it wasn’t enough financing to get the size of the foudre we wanted. But it did allow us to start a barrel-aged program, and that helped make these Plumb & Proper bottles. So amassing different wine and spirit barrels, which we have around 75 now, that was one large-scale objective that we hit and we’ll continue to grow so we can put out more experimental stuff. Canning regularly is a definite to-do right alongside that.
NK: Will you keep bottling your barrel-aged beers?
BL: For the most part. We bottled our initial limited releases—like Plumb & Proper, Starchild, BQE—because it’s easier to do it on a small scale, doing the packaging and labeling by hand. There are obvious benefits to cans over bottles, but I think they also have different connotations to what beer works well in them. I still like the idea of aged beers, things that will condition and change over time, crazy small-batch stuff, going into bottles; it just feels more special. And I think cans are a great format for IPAs and beers you would drink more of and right away. We do plan on canning sours soon Starchild is next. But we’ll probably still release any aged sours in bottles.
NK: So why did you want to can in general?
BL: Because we can can a lot more beer than hand-bottle, so cans will allow us to get our beer to more people. We hope that cans will get to the people who don’t necessary get to bars to try our beer, and to further locations outside the city.
NK: And why the mobile-canning route? Did you consider buying your own canning line?
BL: We had researched [canning lines] when we opened, but given that we’re in New York City and draft-only is a viable model, we never felt the need to include one in our original plan. More importantly we wanted one, but couldn’t afford it. And that’s still pretty much the case.
NK: Anything else that really sold you on mobile canning?
BL: It’s just great in that you’re paying for a service so the upfront costs are less, even if it is quite expensive on a per-can basis. Also it’s great that we can rely on someone who has performed the process before—who knows how to run the machine, who doesn’t need much labor from us, who can assure the can is filled properly. It also allows us to test and figure out what works best for us before we commit to investing in our own line.
NK: How did the first day of canning go?
BL: I’m an optimist so given it was our first time canning, I’m happy. There were some issues: dialing in the system, getting the carbonation to the right level, filling properly without too much foam … We carbonate some of our beers slightly higher than expected to add some perceived dryness, bitterness, to make them feel brighter and more effervescent, so that caused some challenges. And we had to change some hoses to increase restriction on the filling tubes which made the beer fill really nicely, but slowed down the whole process. Also we hand-labeled all the cans! That was a lot of work. So we hope everyone knows that every can bought is really a labor of love—from the brewing of the beer through to the final labeling and snapping into the PakTechs.
NK: What’s the idea behind the Oscillation series? Why not start with one of your already established beers?
BL: We’ve always seen the brewery as a place to make a wide range of beers that rotate, are seasonal, and ultimately allow for creative change. So far between collaborations, small batches, and variations, we’ve brewed over 70 beers. We knew we wanted the first can to be special so we didn’t want to do one of our regular offerings that one could get at bars regularly. We also knew we wanted to can a lot of IPAs, but didn’t want to hand-label every batch. So we went with a series with the same name and label and we’ll probably have a key on our website or Untappd that says what each one is. We may bring some beers in the series into our regular production but we’ll probably keep the series changing. It’s how we like to drink and I think so many craft-beer drinkers are constantly looking for new experiences.
NK: Tell me about 001.
BL: 001 is essentially a 7.5 percent ABV IPA with a lot of hops. I have a love-hate relationship with describing beers, especially IPAs, but that’s a whole other topic.  has a nose of tropical fruit, specifically papaya and mango. Flavor is of hops, melon, with good malt foundation. Balanced. Great to drink. Easy to drink.
NK: Do you have any strict guidelines for the series?
BL: We don’t really have any rules for the series, other than every beer will be hop forward and delicious. We may include black IPAs, wild IPAs … No set rules aside from delicious IPAs.
NK: But how does this fit into your portfolio, say compared to your other IPAs?
BL: We don’t curate our IPAs as a collection so much. We have the same philosophy about IPAs as we do of our other styles: variety, care, and quality make good beers. Finback IPA is a great all-around beer with citrus and good bitterness; Marduk is an earthy red IPA; Miasma, a black IPA with some roast and a touch of smoke; Moby Hop highlights citrus and Amarillo hops; Auspicious Day was tropical. I guess Oscillation would be most related to Auspicious Day, but the series won’t necessarily only lean towards the tropical.
NK: Earlier you mentioned canning Starchild next.
BL: Yeah. We want to can a lot of sours. Dark beers too. The challenge is to figure out the best way to distribute and build our audience.
NK: How often do you expect to can?
BL: We’d like to have a can release once every couple of months for the near future and ramp up from there. However our main issue currently is fermentation space. We built a pretty large brewhouse and have a large brewery space, but ultimately we are a very small brewery. This canning run temporarily wiped out beer for draft accounts so it’s been a challenge to figure out how to balance can beer versus draft beer. But we have two foudres coming! And we’re planning to get more tanks by end of the year which should open up a lot of possibilities for us.
NK: Any last words on Oscillation?
BL: We hope [Oscillation] will let people know they will get a quality IPA that they can get over and over again, but that the experience will be different each time. Like they say in Thailand, “Samesame but different.”