Cans, introduced to the world in the 1930’s, are the cute little single-use kegs of the beer world. As such, it seems like you can’t go to a brewery to have a cold one without hearing this debate going on: what’s better, cans or bottles? Do cans keep beer fresher? Are bottles better for oxygenation? Does that IPA taste like crap because it came out of a can? Well!?! Does it?!?
We’ve all gotten used to seeing the cheap beers of yesteryear in cans, but when it came to craft (aka the king of all beers), bottles just seemed to hold that standard of quality a lot more than cans did. They filled store shelves, eagerly waiting to be purchased by nerd-like beer enthusiasts (me) who spend exorbitant amounts of time in the beer aisle choosing “THE ONE” to take home.
Today’s craft can scene though, is different. People are starting to open their eyes to a whole new perception of canned beer than ever before.
Craft Beer Does Indeed Have Some Foes
While craft beer is out there being all sharp-tongued and unfiltered, it has made some enemies by the names of oxygen, light, and heat. All 3 of those trouble makers can turn a vibrantly beautiful Helles lager into a nasty brawl in a bottle (or can).
Foe #1: HEAT
Okay bottles, you win this one. Sitting in warm or hot temperatures can ruin beer. This is one area where bottles are slightly better because glass offers a bit more insulation than does a can.
Interestingly enough on the flip side of that, aluminum cans cool quicker than glass bottles. So, if you are taking your brews somewhere like camping, to a friend’s house, or hey maybe base jumping, and want them cold quicker, cans will do that for you!
Foe #2: OXYGEN
Say it with me: oxidative rancidity.
Fancy speak for beer that has been skunked by the oxidation process.
Properly sealed bottles do a good enough job of keeping oxygen out but, within a few months that bottled beer is going to start losing it’s quality. Cans are superior to bottles in that they are virtually impenetrable. This aluminum fortress significantly extends the shelf life of canned craft beer and preserves its intended flavors.
Foe #3: LIGHT
Even brown glass bottles don’t filter light completely. Cans however? Well it’s like draping a blackout curtain over your brew: ZERO light gets in. This is an important preservative measure if you want to enjoy the fresh and aromatic nuances of your brew.
Modern Technology “Loves These Cans”
First off, you can nix the metallic taste from steel cans from the 1950. Today’s cans are not only aluminum, they’re also lined on the inside to assure your beer does not touch the metal and chance altering the taste of your beer.
Anyone who says that beer from an aluminum can tastes metallic is probably smelling the can itself. Pour the beer into a glass like a sensible adult and try again. In several blind taste tests with the same beer served both canned and in a bottle, cans have again and again come out victorious.
Another thing…if you’ve never seen beer being canned production-style at a brewery, you just haven’t lived. You need to go. It’s such a beautiful sight. As cans have gained popular ground over time, production lines have become highly optimized at reducing the Total Packaged Oxygen (TPO) in each can, just as well as they did with bottles.
Basically, TPO is the measure of how much oxygen is in the liquid itself, as well as how much oxygen is in the headspace of the bottle. The more oxygen, the shorter the shelf life. Modern production lines have gotten stupid good at keeping TPO levels minimal and beer as fresh as possible.
What Says the Environment?
If mother nature drank beer, would she choose bottles or cans? Well that’s nonsense, mother nature would go to a brewery or bottle shop and fill her growler right at the source, duh! But, for the sake of the experiment, if she had to, she’d choose cans because they are superior to bottles in an environmental sense by being:
ONE: Much smaller and lighter than bottles. Think over 60% smaller and lighter! This means they not only take up less space (say, on a delivery truck or in a warehouse) but they also require less resources and fuel to ship for the same amount of beer. Less resources = better for the planet!
TWO: Much easier to recycle in just about any location. If you live in a metropolitan area recycling is probable pretty easy to find, if not already curbside. However, in more rural spots, recycling isn’t as easy to get to. Plastic, paper, and glass recycling facilities may not exists, but there is usually always somewhere to recycle metal and aluminum.
THREE: Made of aluminum, which is virtually the most recyclable material on earth. Fact check that bad boy, I’ll wait. Beyond that, aluminum can also be recycled many more times over than glass, so it lasts longer, too.
Cans Are Just Damn Handy Is What They Are…
Have you ever lugged a 12 pack of bottles up a hiking trail for you and your friends? Sounds kinda rough…and what if one breaks, and the clanking bottles, and the weight! Cans are small, portable, and won’t shatter into a million dangerous pieces if you drop them.
Or what about all those places glass may not be allowed? Beaches, concerts, pools, parks?
Just ask Oskar Blues, notoriously the first brewery to jump into large-scale can production in their Colorado brewery. Cans have definitely helped them become the outdoor brew of choice in the Rockies for all sorts of recreational activities.
So, There You Have It
All the beer can vs. beer bottle answers you need. Cans are winning, folks. They are:
Superior to bottles at protecting beer from heat, oxygen, and light. Happily moving along the production line, being privy to the latest canning technology. Recyclable and better for the environment. Smaller and lighter than bottles, making them more efficient to transport and store. Handy and portable for anywhere you want to drink a delicious craft beer.
Those are actually a lot of reason to love cans.
However, as a diehard craft beer lover, I never did discriminate against beer cans or beer bottles…because I’m pouring that son of a bitch into a pint glass either way!