It’s likely that if you drink beer, you have a preference for either canned or bottled beer. Your preference may have changed over time. Have you wondered why?
The debate of whether it is better to store beer in a can or bottle can come down to a variety of factors. Taste, affordability, freshness, portability, and environmental factors all play a role in determining which beer container you choose. Homebrewers might also include the availability and pricing of equipment in their assessment.
Read on to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of both bottles and cans. Find out which is better and why.
Bottled beer vs canned beer – why is there a debate?
For decades, there has been a passionate debate about whether beer is better in cans or bottles.
Here are some of the reasons why people prefer one over the other, as well as the comparison criteria for judging which is genuinely superior:
- Environmental Impact
What is your preference? Are you making that decision based any on erroneous, outdated, or ill-informed information? Some of the data surrounding these criteria may surprise you.
A major component of a beer’s flavor is its freshness. Both cans and bottles are good ways to keep beer fresh, but which one is better?
Beer’s freshness is determined by the amount of oxygen it is exposed to, how effectively the container is sealed, and the conditions in which it’s stored. Commercial brewers rarely use different “best by” dates to indicate freshness, but canned beer stays fresher a little longer.
The following section explains how these factors affect the flavor of beer and why cans are the superior choice for freshness.
One of the biggest concerns when deciding how to package your beer is how that packaging will affect the taste.
Cans are better for protecting the taste of the beer because they limit the amount of both light and air that the brew will come into contact with.
While bottles can be tinted and sealed, they are not as efficient at limiting all exposure to these things as cans.
Protection against oxidation
As a homebrewer, you know that oxygen is an enemy of a good-tasting beer. When beer is exposed to too much oxygen, the resulting oxidation can produce unpleasant flavors in your beer.
Canned beer tastes better because it is exposed to less oxygen. The canning process eliminates most of the headspace between the lid and the beer, reducing its oxygen exposure. Cans also have an airtight seal. An organic coating is applied to the lid seal and the interior of the can to prevent air leaks at these points.
To prevent unreleased CO2 from exploding in bottled beer, there is approximately 1 inch of headspace. This exposes the bottled beer to more oxygen than canned beer, which can alter the flavor over time. Caps can also lose their integrity and leak oxygen into bottled beer over time.
Clearly, cans offer a better way to protect beer flavors from oxidation.
Protection against light
Beer’s flavor is also harmed by exposure to light. Have you ever cracked open a cool bottle of beer, taken a big swallow, and been stunned by a “skunky” taste? This unpleasant flavor means the bottle has been exposed to too much light.
Compounds in hops called isohumulones are light-sensitive and when exposed to too much light, they produce a compound similar to that in a skunk’s glands. This compound is what causes beer to “skunk.” Because cans are light-proof, the beer inside won’t develop a skunky flavor, which makes canned beer the better choice.
Brown bottles let in the least light, while green bottles let in a little more. Clear bottles provide no light protection. Have you ever wondered why Corona is often served with lime?
Cans are the best choice for protecting the taste of beer that will be exposed to direct light.
The myth of metal
Many bottle drinkers will tell you that canned beer tastes metallic. Because the rim and top of the can aren’t lined or coated, this may be true if you’re putting your mouth on the aluminum rim when you drink it.
Beer doesn’t taste like the can. Aluminum cans are now lined with an organic compound that seals the aluminum, preventing it from leaching into the contents.
Both your taste and smell are controlled by one olfactory area in your nose. If you’re drinking beer from a can, you’re losing 50% of your sense of taste because you’re smelling the can. To avoid a metallic taste just pour your beer into a glass.
When all of these factors are considered, it’s easy to understand why cans are the winner in terms of taste.
For commercial brewers, market considerations such as brand size, brand pricing, volume, transportation costs, and popularity can affect whether beer in cans and bottles are priced differently.
The cost of beer cans versus bottles isn’t always a deciding factor in which is superior. In most places, a six-pack of cans is the same price as a six-pack of bottles for many popular brands.
The exceptions to this are some specialty aged or casked beers which are aged and sold only in brown bottles to protect the flavors from light exposure. These bottled beers are usually much more expensive than canned beers.
For homebrewers, bottles are the best option since the equipment required for canning can be prohibitively expensive.
Canned beer is the winner in portability hands down. Have you ever tried hiking with a six-pack of bottles in your backpack?
Many public events and recreation areas like concerts and beaches only allow beverages in cans for safety reasons. Cans are lighter in weight to transport and because aluminum distributes temperature better, they also get cold faster in an insulated cooler.
Cans are also favored by distributors over bottles because they are cheaper to transport, stack neatly, and take up less space to store and display.
Producing glass and aluminum from raw materials are both equally harmful to the environment, but is one a better alternative?
Aluminum cans made from recycled materials are better for the environment. They use 5% of the energy and raw materials needed to make new aluminum, and about 45% of them are recycled.
Bottles require a lot of heat to produce, are heavy, and have a huge carbon footprint for both distribution and recycling.
Mining bauxite ore, which is used to make aluminum, pollutes the environment in the nations where it is mined, but aluminum cans are more easily recycled than glass bottles.
When it comes to the environmental impact, canned beer clearly has the upper hand.
Many homebrewers prefer the taste of canned beer but will use bottles for storage because they can reuse old bottles many times, and the bottling process is cheaper than canning.
Canning equipment is becoming more affordable for homebrewers. This is due in part to the trend of craft brewers moving to cans. As the trend continues, more homebrewers are opting to can their beer rather than bottle it.
Homebrewers not only better appreciate the taste, but also the ease of storage and portability of cans.
Which is better – bottled beer or canned beer?
After compiling all the statistics and preferences for canned beer versus bottled, the clear winner is canned beer.
Many beer drinkers are discovering that canned beer has a number of advantages beyond just taste.
If you’re still not convinced get a bottle and a can of your favorite beer. Have a friend pour each of them into a separate glass, and do a blind taste test. Which one did you choose?