I hate cans. Let me start by saying how much I really, really don’t like beer in a can. I don’t even really like soft drinks like Coca-Cola in a can; they always taste better in old-fashioned, classic bottles.
Unfortunately, as much as many of us beer lovers prefer beer bottles, the majority of craft breweries have now decided to go down the beer-in-cans route. Over 30% of the prepackaged craft beers sold in the US are now in aluminum cans, and that number is rising every day.
Am I just being a beer snob when I say beer tastes different from a can? Do canned beers offer any advantages over bottled beer? Let’s try to dispel some of the myths about beer cans and settle the canned beer debate once and for all.
It looks like us craft beer drinkers are going to have to get used to our favorite beers in cans, whether we like it or not!
Does Beer from a Can Have a Metallic Taste? Myth!
One of the biggest obstacles many beer fans have in accepting beer in cans over glass bottles is the perceived metallic taste that a can gives beer.
That metallic taste doesn’t, however, come from the can — in fact, the beer doesn’t touch the metal inside of the can as aluminum cans are lined with a polymer coating. Lining the cans is nothing new either; most manufacturers have been doing this since the mid 1930s.
The metallic taste many associate with cans instead comes from the smell of the can as you raise it to your mouth (scientists often claim 80% of taste is from your sense of smell). Try pouring the canned beer into a clean glass and it would be almost impossible to distinguish the taste of a bottled beer from a canned beer.
If you think about it, many of today’s draught beers are stored in metal kegs and you rarely hear anybody complaining about a their favorite beer having a metallic taste when it comes out of the tap. Many of us even use metal flasks to store our drinking water when out and about and you don’t often hear people complaining about metallic water.
If you find a beer has a metallic taste, it is more likely to be the actual beer inside the can than the can itself. Raw materials used in the brewing of the beer, including low quality grain, can often lend a metallic taste, especially if they have come into contact with metal while being stored.
A metallic off-flavor in beer can also be a sign the water used to brew the beer was iron-rich or high in other heavy metals. And finally, the equipment used to brew the beer, which is normally tin or copper coated in nickel, can deteriorate over time and contaminate the beer brewed inside the vessels.
Try pouring your beer into a glass from both a bottle and a can and then doing a blind taste test. I can almost guarantee you won’t be able to tell the difference.
Cans Keep Beer Fresh Longer
Cans offer better protection to the beer inside from two of the biggest enemies of the beverage: UV light and oxygen.
Light damages beer and will give it that “skunky” taste familiar to anyone who has ever drunk beer from green or clear glass bottles on a summer day.
That unpleasant odor or taste, also known as lightstruck beers, happens when ultraviolet light hits certain molecules in the beer. You can even notice this skunky flavor when drinking beer from a pint glass sitting outside on a sunny terrace or patio.
The good news for bottles is that brown glass blocks about 99% of UV rays, but they still don’t offer the same protection as an opaque can, which allows no light in. Think of it as your own personal keg for your favorite crafty beers.
Oxygen is another factor that can affect the flavor of beer over time. When it comes to the seal of beer cans vs. bottles, they are both secured in a way that will keep the beer fresh for it’s shelf life, but cans do offer slightly better protection against oxidation.
Although the crown caps used by most beer manufacturers now have some form of silicone liner to make the seal more airtight and protect the beer from oxygen before the cap is crimped to the bottle, over time a small amount of oxygen may leak in. A crown cap will only offer a 99% airtight seal compared to the 100% oxygen-free seal of a canned beer.
If a beer is consumed within the first few months following the filling process, this shouldn’t be a problem. But issues can arise with older beers that have been stored for longer — all Budweiser beers now carry a “Born on” date rather than a best-before date to show how long it’s been in the glass bottle.
Canned beer lids, by comparison, offer a double seal and therefore provide double the protection from oxygen, preserving the freshness and flavor of the beer. The basic design of an aluminum can means it forms a perfect airtight seal with no headspace for oxygen that bottled beers have to contend with.
Beer Cans vs. Bottles: Which is More Eco Friendly and Sustainable?
Although both the aluminum and the glass used in beer bottles can be recycled, beer cans are more commonly recycled. Aluminum is actually the most recyclable material on our planet due to its lower density and lower weight. Almost 75% of the aluminum that has been produced since the late 19th century is still in circulation today.
The US Enviromental Protection Agency recently released figures reporting that only 26.4% of recycled glass gets reused, compared to 54.9% of aluminum cans.
So, if you are looking to do your bit for the world’s environment, then choosing to drink canned beers may have a huge impact.
The carbon footprint reduction from canned beers is another reason they are more eco-friendly. As more and more craft brewers have ended up shipping pallets of beers domestically and internationally, they have quickly grasped the practicalities of having a lower weight and smaller packaging for beer.
A 6-pack of cans weighs about 5lbs compared to the same beer in a 6-bottle pack weighing about 7.5 lbs.
Not only are the cans lighter, but the smaller form factor means more cans can be fitted onto a pallet for shipping and save space on the trucks or in the containers — both of which seriously cut down on fuel costs and carbon emissions.
Beer Can vs Bottle BEER — The Beer Drinkers’ Practicalities
Many would argue that although beer looks more aesthetically pleasing coming from a bottle, cans can be more fun and much more practical for your adventure-loving beer enthusiast.
The lighter weight of cans makes them far easier to carry when heading out for the day — some cases of beer weigh up to ten pounds less in cans than in bottles. Those extra pounds can make a huge difference when hiking with them in your backpack.
The smaller form factor also means you can fit more of them in your bag, and there’s no need for a bottle opener either. The more fragile nature of glass bottles also makes canned beers a no-brainer when planning your next picnic.
Drop a bottle of beer and there goes your favorite tipple, while a can will more than likely just bounce. For retailers and event organizers, the added protection of cans is welcome, too, as there is a lower chance of shards of broken glass injuring patrons. Bar and shopkeepers will also tell you how much easier cans are to store with fewer issues of breakage.
Cans: The Way Forward for the Craft Beer Industry
As much as I hate to say it, when it comes to the cans vs. bottles debate, there is only one clear winner: cans!
Beer snobbery and prejudices aside, cans win on almost every factor. Sure, a bottle looks nicer and keeps with the old romantic image of saloon bars and beers of the past, but many craft beer manufacturers offer the same beer in bottles and cans.
The choice is up to you as the customer, but the beer in both will be of the same quality.
The truth is, the majority of craft beers sold prepackaged are housed in cans, or your own personal “mini-keg.”
Just because cans win so many of the above arguments doesn’t mean you should have to give up on bottled beers altogether, though.
Normally your favorite homebrew will be bottled — it’s a good way to show off your latest creation to your beer enthusiast buddies. But next time you are in the supermarket and you see the same beer in can or bottles, which way are you going to go?