Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development -
A few people have written in to BeerNexus to ask me if beer is better in a bottle or a can.  
Well, that's my subject this month. First a bit of history. On Jan. 24, 1935, the Gottfried
Krueger Brewing Co. of Newark, N.J., with help from the American Can Co., sent the first
2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger Cream Ale to Richmond, Va. The cans had
flat tops that required a drinker to punch two holes in it (one for drinking, one for air intake).
By the end of 1935, Krueger and its larger competitors sold more than 200 million cans.

However, it wasn’t until 2002 — when Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis started canning
Dale’s Pale Ale as a means of drawing customers to his brewpub in Lyons, Colo. — that the
craft beer community gave cans serious consideration. Though a novelty among craft
brewers when Katechis first set up his canning operation, cans have become so popular
among brewers that 550 of the nation’s more than 5,000 breweries now release their beers
in cans, according to CraftCans.com.

The three enemies of beer are sunlight, oxygen and heat, so let’s take the heat out of the
equation, because you can control that in either package. Aluminum is impervious to sunlight
and is subject to lower oxygen levels when put in a can instead of a bottle, so two of the three
enemies are mitigated to a greater degree in aluminum than they are when beer is packaged
in glass. And just why are sunlight and oxygen bad, well light will cause a “lightstruck”
chemical reaction that forms a sulfur compound that gives beer a “skunky” aroma and flavor.
Oxygen can make a beer ‘oxidized’, an objectionable quality of staleness that may either just
dull the beer or taste like paper or wet cardboard or simply stale.

Not only that, but cans are a bit less fragile than bottles, whose shard-shedding flaws
prompted a massive recall of Sierra Nevada beers during the same week as Beer Can
Appreciation Day. All of the above drive a strong argument for cans that makes it perfectly
reasonable to worry about the bottle’s future, even if it isn’t in any real peril.

Craft brewers are giving every indication that cans are their container of choice.  
Michiganbased Founders was the first craft brewer to sell its canned beer in 15-packs in
2013.  Colo.-based brewer New Belgium will be putting its new Dayblazer session ale in
canned 15-packs as well, while Calif.-based 21st Amendment will be putting its Brew Free! or
Die IPA and Hell or High Watermelon beers, a15-packs.

Oskar Blues will be offering 19.2-ounce stovepipe cans of its Dale’s Pale Ale to put into
racetracks and stadiums.  And it also invented one of craft beer geeks’ favorite bar toys the
Crowler. They not only put 1,000 Crowler machines into the market since 2014 which in effect
upgradedthe venerable growler jug to a can.

Cans are easier to carry around (think beaches, hiking trails, golf courses), easier to recycle,
easier to ship, easier to use (resealable cans and removable lids) and easier to implement
(thanks to mobile canners). Cans now make up 12% of all craft beer sales volume. That’s still
well behind the overall beer industry average of roughly 55%, which provides a lot of room for
growth, especially for low-alcohol styles like Pilsner, session IPA, Berliner Weisse and others.

A Nielsen survey discovered that just 40% of drinkers thought the quality and freshness of
canned beer was greater than or equal to that of beers in bottles. Meanwhile, the idea that
canned beer tastes “metallic” — despite decades of improvements to can liners that are
meant to eliminate that flavor — hasn’t dissipated.  To solve that I ask people is to pour a
beer out of a can and into a glass and you'll see that it doesn’t taste any different.


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Cheers,
Matt
Please continue to support my friends at
The  Northside Lounge
Nik's Wunderbar - Whitehouse Station NJ
Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but a well known ecological writer whose
work has appeared in the The American Midland Naturalist (University of Notre Dame) among other
industry publications.  He also has been an agricultural consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.
Beer In Cans - YES!
To all my readers and friends, I want to thank you for all your support during my time at Nik's
Wunderbar and at the Northside Lounge.  I'm moving back to the enviromental/ecological field so
the next time you see me at a pub it will likely be on a stool next to you.  I'll continue to write my
column here on BeerNexus giving you my take on what's happening in the beer world with my
insights derived from many years in the industry.  Cheers!