If you want to split a room full of beer geeks down the middle, ask everyone who is pro-canned beer to stand along one wall and everyone who is anti-can to stand along the other. I guarantee that it’ll look like the floor of a middle school dance in no time.
Well, count me as standing among the can advocates in this little scenario. Decades ago, there was a great argument against cans. The lack of any coating inside the can meant beer came out tasting like aluminum. While new technology means that this is no longer a problem, a stigma against cans still exists, although it is much more of a psychological one. When people think of canned beer, they think of mass produced swill – most people only see brews like Bud, Miller and Coors in cans. When people think of American craft breweries, they almost always think of long-necked brown bottles. Two of our oldest craft brewers, Sam Adams and Anchor, put out beer in bottles. If it ain’t broke, why change it?
This isn’t to say that the current system is broken, but the more I look at cans the more I think they are the better way to package beer. Enough about touchy-feely stigmas and image problems – here are some of the facts;
- Quality – Beer is incredibly sensitive to light and oxygen. Too much of either and you’ll end up with a beer that’s skunked or tastes “off”. Brown glass is incredibly good at blocking light – way better than green or clear glass. Some light can still get through brown glass, but cans block light completely, giving you a longer lasting product. Cans are also sealed containing less oxygen than bottles, and less oxygen make it through the top of a can than a cork or bottle cap.
- Portability – Cans are lighter than bottles, and take up less space. Cans are also way more durable once they are filled – you’ll never find a still-drinkable-but-dented glass bottle. While many venues don’t ban alcohol outright, many (beaches, golf courses, etc.) do ban glass. Cans can also go places that glass bottles can’t, either explicitly or illicitly.
- Environmentally Friendly – The fact that cans are lighter and take up less space means that more can be transported further using less gasoline. Cans take less resources to manufacture. Aluminum cans are also cheaper to recycle than glass, and recycled at a greater rate.
Don’t think that I’m the only one that thinks cans are the future for craft beer. Oskar Blues, Surly Brewing, Caldera Brewing, and 21st Amendment all put out beer exclusively in cans. New Belgium‘s flagship Fat Tire (which I lovingly posted about last week) is available in cans, as is Brooklyn‘s flagship Brooklyn Lager. One of my favorite things about these breweries is that they aren’t just putting wimpy beers in cans. Imperial stouts, saisons and IPAs are mingling with lagers and pilsners.
Consumers seem to be latching on too – while Oskar Blues makes damn good beer, I can’t pretend that their 2000% growth in six years doesn’t have at least a little to do with the cans. Ditto to the growth of 21st Amendment, which just started showing up here on the east coast. Anecdotally, I’ve seen more canned brews popping up on the shelves of better beer stores here in Portland. Even if cans don’t turn out to be the future for craft breweries, it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever go back to being exclusively for crummy beer.
All things considered, the quality of beer being brewed is much more important than how it is delivered to your packie. Still, consider picking up a sixer of the canned stuff the next time you’re shopping. Check your anti-can bias at the door, and you might be surprised by the radical beer in your hand.