The Great Bottle/Can Debate

Unless you’ve been largely buying your beer off the folding table of a guy named Skids at the corner of Down St. and Out Blvd., chances are pretty good that you’ve noticed the recent proliferation of canned craft product on the shelves of your favorite bottle shops.

Seriously, even I’ve noticed, and as my wife is fond of pointing out, I’m probably the least observant person ever.  My office building could be on fire and I might, maybe, wonder idly why they turned up the damned thermostat again.

Yep, the beer industry is quickly on it’s way to using more aluminum than you’d find on the heads of convention-goers at ConspiracyCon 2012.  The prevailing wisdom is that the adoption of your dad’s beer can is good for many key aspects of modern beer consumerism, namely, production and shipping costs, beer quality, and environmental impact, just to name a few.

Of course, there are still plenty of glass lovers out there too.  Bottle boosters claim that cans give beer a "metallic taste", and not every brewer is jumping up to join the canning cabal.  Dogfish Head, for one, apparently thinks that canning runs counter to their mission to "elevate beer".

That’s all well and good, but let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: which container is really the best?

That’s easy, I say.  It’s obviously canning.  And here’s why:

  1. Bottles are heavy and loud – Look, as sad as it is to admit, sometimes it just isn’t easy carrying a pack of bottles around.  For instance, I often take a six or 12-pack of brew with me to my recreational hockey games for a little post-game camaraderie with my teammates.  And when you’ve already got a bag slung over your shoulder filled with enough protective equipment to keep you safe in case Delta flight 6009 lands on the ice rink (due to budget cuts, of course) and a couple of hockey sticks in hand, the last thing you want to have to deal with is 20 extra pounds of beer bottles.  Oh, and that clinking together business isn’t all that helpful either.  When you play on a team like mine, spilling the beans on the post-game beer before the game can lead to a voluntary forfeit in the blink of an eye when everyone decides they’d prefer to enjoy the brews rather than wrestle themselves into protective pants designed for a guy with 100% less beer belly.
  2. Cans can be crushed – I don’t know about you, but the recycling bin the company gave us is about a quarter of the size of my trash cans, even though I generate a whole lot more recyclables than garbage (but, um, just don’t ask if that’s still true were we to ignore all the beers vessels involved).  So, it’s awesome that I can save precious space by squeezing my empty beer cans barehanded, or stomping them like a real-world version of Itssssaaa meeeee, Maahhrio pounding one of those Mushroom guys*.  And less wasted space in my bin means I’m not so likely to leave a Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail by dropping things from the overstuffed container between my garage and the street come Thursday morning.  See? Definitely a plus.
  3. Cans don’t hurt – Deny it all you want, but the aluminum can is a less dangerous container than it’s glass counterpart.  For one thing, if you end up on the wrong end of, um, accidental intoxication, dropping a newly-opened can of beer doesn’t include much likelihood of showering you and your kitchen with sharp, sinister, beer-soaked shrapneloids of glass.  And when was the last time you saw a movie were some trouble-seeking ne’er-do-well cracked his can of High Life against the bar to produce a quick and dirty slashing weapon?  I mean, sure, aluminum cans are hella sharp when you cut ’em open, but that’s not exactly likely to happen without intent and some real, concerted effort.

Are cans the end-all-be-all of beer consumption?  Is their resurgence in our daily lives an act to a herald a coming Utopia?

Um, no.  Probably not, at least.

Silliness aside, I don’t have much real preference for cans versus bottles.  Because at the end of the day, what I’m really looking for is the best quality brew I can pour down my gullet.  And if I can only get that from a old-school rawhide skin in the middle of the desert, well, then that’s my preferred delivery vessel of the moment.

In other words, bottles or cans, it’s the beer that’s key to me.  But what do you think of the lowly can rising, phoenix-like, into prominence once again?  Do tell!


*For the record, even though this sentence seems to be referring to illicit drug use, I totally just mean Super Mario Bros.  I swear.

11 Replies to “The Great Bottle/Can Debate”

  1. I’m with you here. I don’t have a huge preference for one over the other. I find a lot of the shrieking about the off-flavors and whatnot found in beer in can by certain big brewers (one of them who happens to brew in our city) a bit exhausting.

    As long as the beer in the container tastes good, I don’t care how it’s packaged. My opinion is this: if you are a brewer and you want to can, great. If not, great. But for Pete’s sake, shut up about it and brew beer.

  2. Two questions: One, do you think there’s a taste difference? I notice it. Even at cookouts where there’s Budweiser in cans and bottles, I reach for the bottle.

    Two, you’re right that Cans Don’t Hurt, except for that nasty BPA lining that they have. I spend enough time worrying about chemicals in everything I touch and use. The last time I want to think about it is as I’m enjoying an end-of-day drink.

  3. Another big thing I hear from proponents of cans is that there are no issues of light weakening the beer.

    IMO I could care less as long as the contents of the container are still delicious. And as far as the metallic taste goes I think that is from drinking FROM the can. When I get bottles or cans I usually pour them into a glass.

  4. I love the look and feel of a can of beer and the graphics they can apply to them just in the past few years. I see a growing market there. However ,no matter how much it makes me grab one the flavor suffers. I don’t care what they say it tastes metallic. I’ve actually stopped buying some brands because of it. If the same beer is on the shelf in both packaging, I would grab the bottles.

  5. Oddly, or perhaps not oddly, by pouring the beer into a glass, I cannot distinguish a canned vs. bottled beer. Sometimes, the hops are a bit “fresher” in a can, but that might be a date thing. It could also be the no light filtration, too.

    If I drink from a bottle or a can directly, I can taste a slight difference, but that’s probably from the tab of the can and not the inside. It’s subtle but noticeable.

    All in all, if I’m drinking beer at home I don’t care if it is canned or bottled. If I’m going to the pool, I’d prefer cans since they are actually allowed. I may sneak a few bottles in and bring a plastic cup with me if I’m feeling dicey.

  6. I love the proliferation of good beer in cans for all the reasons mentioned in the article.

    I taste no metal off taste. I’m sorry for the people that do. Not that I don’t believe them but you’re mind is a powerful thing so I’d love to see them do a blind test to see if they are really tasting it.

    As for chemicals in the can, I’m more concerned about the actual chemicals in the beer (EtOH) that I’m consuming that some tiny amount of a chemical leaching into the beer. Here’s what New Belgium had to say about it when they started canning Fat Tire in 2008 –

  7. I’ve sometimes noticed differences in flavor of cans vs bottles. Sometimes I enjoy the beer more directly from the can whereas others I do get a hint of metallic which most likely comes from the scent of the outside can rather than the flavor in the beer. Decanting the beer into a glass solves the problem so in the end I enjoy all the benefits of cans (including awesome graphics) much more than bottles.

  8. For the big brewer it is far cheaper to can the beer than bottles. You can run cans at a much higher rate than bottles and the bottles create a lot more noise than the cans. You can pack a lot more beers in cans than bottles into a cooler and after you crush the cans it is a lot easier to recycle the cans than bottles. Pour the beer into a glass from the can and you will not taste the metallic taste and I would bet you could not taste any diffrence. And when you buy Yuengling in cans it is a buck cheaper that the bottles!

  9. @Matt

    If beers were poured into a glass, I’d bet that 99.9% wouldn’t be able to tell a taste difference. That being said, the lip of the beer can and the tab will naturally feel and taste different than the glass rim of a bottle, which is where I think most people get that “can vs. bottle” taste difference.

    I can taste the lip/tab on an aluminum can, and it tastes metal-ish.

  10. I prefer the bottles. cans do taste metalic. I never thought about the taste after putting the canned beer into a glass, but I have had beer in a glass plenty of times. The point I would make is that could be a lot of glasses, I wouldn’t want to put cold beer into a unchilled glass. The second point is that glasses are more trouble if you go to a picnic or someplace-then you have the problem of cold glasses and plenty of cold glasses. Bottles are as portable as cans (except at the beach-no glass at the beach either way.) I vote for glass bottles (not plastic bottles or plastic glasses) whenever possible for the taste and the convienence, oh, and the glass keep the beer colder longer. sometimes not by much but it still counts.

  11. “The point I would make is that could be a lot of glasses, I wouldn’t want to put cold beer into a unchilled glass”

    Why is that?

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