Monday, January 14, 2013

Cans vs Bottles: Myths Busted

c.2010 J. Bull
By now many of you have seen SierraNevada's big green tall boys on the shelves of your local bottle shop. Maybe you've been searching for some of that delicious GoldenRoad and only been able to find cans. No longer is the “Silver Bullet” for tasteless macro brews and soda pop--its popularity with the craft brewing community is growing everyday.

Much like the controversial “natural cork vs synthetic” argument in the wine industry, canning has been on the table of “flavor and tackiness” for some time now. What are the arguments against canning and do they have any validity or are they simply “old husbands tales”? I decided to do some research and find out for myself.

c.2012 M. Mioduszewski.
During the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego I had the opportunity to sit down with the fine people of Crown Holdings. Crown Holdings creates the cans for Big Sky Brewing and Wachusett Brewing Companies. I wanted to hear about the process and couldn't have been more surprised by what I learned. Crown holds itself to some of the highest standards in the industry, through innovation and improvements on what is considered the most effective of packaging since the 1800's. They start by purchasing aluminum sheets and through a series of stamps and punches create a cylinder with a bottom on it and a separate top with an opener and perforated spout (to be added later at the brewery). They coat the inside of the cans with a special FDA-regulated coating which many canning companies do not make public because they are constantly trying to update and improve these coatings but I did get a fairly comprehensive answer after scouring some engineering and recycling forums online. The coating is a food safe polymer with vinyl-based resins (comestible polymeric coating) meant to keep metal particles (or metal salts) from migrating into the beer. This polymer is also impenetrable by anything other than industrial grade solvents or tremendous heat (as it is removed by most recycling plants) making it impossible to be eaten away by natural enzymes and acids that break down metals. Back pre-1980's before cobalt salts were regulated in beer (See History of Lite Beer) many people reported a metallic taste that came from drinking canned beers. This may not just have been naturally occurring in the beer but perhaps truly occurring in early cans that weren't coated with as sophisticated polymers as today's cans are. After coating the insides of the cans, topless wraps are sent through a screen printer to print the design appearing on the outside of the can, packaged, and shipped off to their designated breweries.

When I visited Oskar Blues Brewing out in Colorado they walked me through the canning process explaining how they ensure quality in flavor from the fermenting barrel to the can. Much as with bottling, they fill the cans using a counter-flow CO2 displacement filler that pre-charges the cans with CO2 and then pours the beer in to push the CO2 out the top, leaving a healthy foam head. Using a CO2 knife they cut the head level to the top of the can and float the can top on it before crimping it down. Unlike a bottle cap that is shaped more like a dome leaving room for air, the can tops are flat leaving no room between the carefully cured top and the foamy head. By keeping the oxygen out they are keeping the beer fresher longer by effectively preventing any oxidation.

As far as taste goes, canning seems to be the best option for keeping all the good flavors in, and all the bad flavors out of beer. Also, since oxygen is more limited in canning than in bottling, the chances of your beer becoming oxidized is decreased considerably. The other most obvious point to note is that aluminum is impenetrable by sunlight--keeping those pesky UV rays out of the beer. I think it's safe to say that canning is good for the beer, and metal being an infinitely recyclable product it's good for the earth too.

But wait there's more! I've heard many a beer snob say “...but it looks tacky to drink out of a can!” Don't worry I addressed this issue as well.

I consulted the co-founder of one of the original can-only breweries in San Francisco: 21stAmendment's Shaun O'Sullivan, who complains “So many times I end up talking more about the packaging than about the beer itself.” When they first started production it seemed to them that canning being environmentally sound and beer-safe was a no-brainer, but also that it was perfect for people with an active lifestyle as well. “I want to go sailing or hiking, not hauling a bunch of bottles with me everywhere I go” says O'Sullivan, who points out the portability of cans before and after the beer has been consumed. He also stresses that unless you're out and about on an adventure, please kindly pour your Monk's Blood into the appropriate glassware because “a can is just a small keg, not always a drinking vessel” and we all love beer from kegs!


you should challenge one of your assumptions 'and metal being an infinitely recyclable product it's good for the earth too.' if you go back a bit further into the production cycle you will see that the mining of aluminum is a pollution intensive process, bringing aluminum more in line with glass bottles.

fyi glass is recyclable too...

Thats not really a "vs" thats a clear pro cans text.

Thanks JP! I will definitely look in to it more. I will mention most of my information regarding recyclability was using Cork and Crown's own research and claims.

Always love the argument. People say beer quality is different in cans to bottles to Keg. They always say the like canned beer least, bottle next, then keg/draft. I then ask them, "What is a keg"? It's a giant can. I am an avid supporter of craft in cans. If a brewery has the same beer sitting on the shelf in a can and bottle, I buy the can every time.

Thanks for the comment Smurfe! My favorite thing is when there's a price difference between the two-- last time I ventured into a BevMo they have AVBC's Winter Solstice in a can for $2 less than in a bottle!

Say what you will, but get the same beer in a bottle, can, and from a keg and it will taste different. Also, if you drink right from the can, I find it tastes different than if pour that same beer into a glass. Someone throw some science at this and do a proper study!

A keg is stainless steel, holds more pressure and is whole when it is filled with beer, so can be completely purged with CO2... No "floating"the lid on top of foam before actually sealing the can. Not the same at all.

If you're able you should always pour your beer into it's proper glassware whether your beer is coming from a bottle or a can!

Aluminium is far more efficient to recycle than glass or plastic. Mining the rare earth elements that make hybrid car batteries is also pollution intensive. Doing the "green" thing often comes with trade-offs.

Nothing in this article about the BPA in can liners.

I guess it's not a myth.

Cans are recyclable, but they aren't reusable.

Where I am beer bottles are washed and reused rather than melted and re-cast. Isn't this common practice elsewhere?

I would definitely not suggest removing bottles all together, however I think that we should give cans a chance and not automatically dismiss them simply because they are cans. As a homebrewer I save my bottles and use them for my own, however if I was to start doing production I would look into canning my product. Canning is about the same initial cost but the price per unit is significantly lower.

Someone mentioned earlier that they had at one time been able to sell their bottles back to the brewery- I think that if this were the case environmentally we would have an infrastructure worth exploring!

Glass sucks when that drunk chick drops her beer over the side of the jacuzzi, shattering all over the ground. You didn't bring any footwear with you, just a towel and a hope to see some bikini-clad boobage. You smile and say "That's ok, happens all the time" and go to get another. Stepping out, you put your foot down on that shard that was hidden under the small leaf as it punctures your heel. Now you're trying to not call any attention, as you're bleeding like a stuck pig across your carpet, heading for the kitchen for her replacement beer. You slip and fall on your own blood, knocking yourself out on the kitchen counter. She gets bored and gets out, finding you unconscious. She's nice enough to call an ambulance, but not before grabbing your credit cards out of your wallet and racking up a huge charge at the nearby 24 hour Walmart.

This is why I drink from cans.

A lot of really good beer comes in cans nowadays, and those numbers are growing!! I have just started to homebrew so my last beer shopping trip made me buy beer that came in bottles so that I'll have a vast supply when the bottling stages rears its head. I was quite surprised how limited my selection of good beer was!

Have you heard about the new Samuel Adams developed can design? That has a lot of time, money and development to back it up and should be quite interesting!!

The article doesn't need to mention bpa, because bpa is chemically bonded in the liner, so unless you are heating up your full can of beer enough to break the bonds it isnt released into the beer.

I love how long we've been debating cans in the craftbeer world and I still hear all the same arguments from ignorance every time someone posts an article.
Do a blind taste test people! Pour the same beer into three identical glasses from glass, can, and tap and see if you can pick them apart.

If you look closely at our new urban art collection you'll see elements of design made popular by street art.

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