When many of us think of canned beer, flashbacks to college parties or tailgates often come to mind. Coolers full of Natty Light, The Beast, PBR. And is there a better sound than cracking open a cold can of beer? The hiss of carbonation, the crinkling of aluminum. Fond memories, for sure.
It’s precisely because of those memories that most of us associate canned beer with cheap, bad-tasting light beer. And for the most part, it’s a valid association. Most beer that we see in cans is from the larger breweries and it is typically your run-of-the-mill Standard American lager. Over the years, canned beer has developed a very bad perception.
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, canned beer for the sophisticated palate.
That perception has slowly begun to change over the past few years. A few craft breweries have begun canning their beer. Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colorado, championed the cause back in 2002 when they became the first microbrewery to can their beer. Since then, about 40 other microbreweries have started canning beer, including Surly in Minneapolis, Sly Fox in Pennsylvania and New Belgium in Fort Collins.
Given the perception surrounding canned beer, it is quite a risk for craft breweries to can their beer. After all, if it’s in a can, it can’t be good, can it? Good beer is only in bottles, right? Doesn’t the aluminum impart a metallic taste to beer? Yes it can, no it doesn’t and no.
Perhaps way back in the day, steel cans may have given the beer a metallic taste, but that is no longer a problem. Cans are now lined with a space-age polymer that prevents any such tainting of flavor. (Ok, I made up the space-age polymer part, but the cans are lined with a water-based epoxy to protect the flavor of the beer. The beer and aluminum don’t come into contact.)
Cans Are Better For Beer
As a matter of fact, cans are a much better container for beer for two primary reasons:
- Cans don’t allow in any light. Beer gets skunked when it is exposed to light. Even brown bottles, which block most of the light that damages beer (clear and green bottles are worthless), allow in some light. With enough exposure, beer in brown bottles can get skunked.
- Can don’t allow in any air. When beer comes into contact with oxygen, it can get oxidized. Oxidation results in beer tasting papery, cardboardy or stale. Bottles, for the most part, are sealed very well. However, over time, air can slowly seep in through the seal on the cap and result in an oxidized, stale beer.
For the most part, if you are drinking fresh beer that has been handled well, bottles will serve just fine. Cans do provide an extra measure of protection and help preserve the freshness of the beer.
Cans Are Better For the Environment
Not only are cans better for the beer itself, they also provide numerous benefits to the environment:
- Cans are more compact and weigh less than bottles, so they are more space efficient and cost less to ship.
- Aluminum is more easily recyclable than glass. Consumers are also more likely to recycle aluminum than glass.
- Cans don’t break, which make them ideal for outdoor activities such as camping, boating, tailgating and hiking.
Cans Are More Fun
- You can’t play Wizard Sticks with bottles.
Why don’t more craft breweries can their beers?
The primary reason is the initial cost to switch to cans. A small commercial canning line is much more expensive than a bottling line. Canning systems have become more affordable, thanks to Cask Brewing Canning Systems, which has engineered a relatively low-cost system designed for microbreweries. Still, Oskar Blues spent about $45,000 for their canning set-up, and many small breweries can’t afford that type of up front investment. Larger canning lines can cost over $200,000.
However, if a brewery can swing the initial investment, the savings over time can be significant. Shipping costs will be substantially lower due to lighter-weight aluminum. They can also save on labels and glue. In addition, breweries have seen substantially higher sales growth for their canned selections, as people have become more aware of the benefits of canned beer.
I’ll leave you with one final thought: Draft beer is served in a 1,984 ounce can, also known as a keg.