|The shape of things to come?|
If we accept the concept of real ale in a bottle, there is no logical reason why we should not accept real ale in a can, although there is one obvious disadvantage: as the others have pointed out, with a can you cannot see the beer when pouring so you may end up with a hazy or even cloudy pint, which is obviously not good news if clarity is important to you. Other than that, I can't see how there'd be any difference between real ale in bottles or cans.
Justin Hawke of Moor Brewery believes that we over-value beer clarity in this country, but that is his opinion, nothing more. As a former home brewer on quite a large scale for an amateur brewing a variety of styles in the kitchen (up to 200 pints at any given time), I never used finings and I rarely had trouble with clarity. If an amateur like me could consistently make clear real ale in a bottle, I don't understand why professionals can't.
The simple fact is that we do eat and drink with our eyes as well as our mouths. We needed to in the distant past because it was an essential survival skill. The instinct (if that's what it is) is still there: most of us wouldn't eat food that had, say, mould growing on it, with the possible exception of blue cheeses. If we don't like the look of something, we won't eat or drink it, and plenty of people prefer clarity in their beer. They're not wrong: quite simply, they know what they're prepared to put into their own bodies.
Although I won't take back a hazy pint if I judge the flavour to be unaffected, I prefer my beer to be clear. The reasons why most people prefer beer to be clear are really quite irrelevant. Clarity is what most customers want, and as they're paying, I think they're entitled to get what they ask for. It has been suggested that our preference for clarity dates from when a cloudy pint really meant the beer was off. That's possible but I'm not entirely convinced: I think people simply like what they're eating and drinking to look good, however they choose to define that quality. If looks weren't important, how come restaurants take such trouble to make their food look good? Why don't they just slop it on the plate in any order and tell diners to eat with their mouths, not their eyes? Because the appearance of what we consume matters to most of us.
Getting back to real ales in cans or bottles: the differences between cask beer and keg or smoothflow are quite significant. I find the differences between real ale in bottles and brewery-conditioned bottled beers considerably less so, and I expect the same would apply to real ale in cans. From my point of view, this is all a lot of fuss about not a great deal, although I expect the publicity has done Moor Brewery no harm. I have no ill-will towards this venture - I may even try the beer if I come across it - but I shan't be rushing out to find canned real ale for much the same reasons that I don't now rush out to buy bottled real ales.