Bottles - vs- Cans
Jim Attacap

Where’s your beer – in a can or in a bottle?

The debate between canned beer and bottled beer did not start until the 1930s.
Until then tin cans could not hold beer without exploding. It wasn’t until 1933 that
a vinyl liner was invented to prevent the beer from busting the can’s seam. The
first beer to use the new canning technology was Krueger’s Finest Beer. It was a
huge hit with the public.

Gradually, beer in cans spread in popularity to Europe. Production of canned
beer was stopped however during World War II due to rationing. It resumed

after the war, and quickly reached high popularity with the introduction of the
flat top can.

The main reason for the success of canned beer was convenience. Because
they were smaller than bottles, were stackable, and didn’t break easily, they
were easier to sell. The invention of the liner that made canned beer possible
also allowed beer to be sold in metal kegs instead of wooden casks. This made
it easier to transport to bars and kept the beer fresh for longer periods of time.

The big question is what about the taste? Some people think that the can gives
beer an off putting aftertaste due to the aluminium now used. Others think that
the bottle does a better job of preserving the beer's carbonation.  Breweries
such as Oskar Blues take the reverse point of view.  They say that cans protect
against damaging sunlight and keep the beer fresher.

Jim Koch, famed founder of Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams) doesn't believe in  
cans. He says he has refused requests from airlines, stadiums, and golf courses
to can his beers -- rejections that he says would have brought the firm millions of
dollars. Koch, a true microbrewing industry pioneer, maintains that canned beer
runs the risk of imparting a metallic taste. Although plastic protects the inside of
the can, Koch says the tab and lip of the aluminum can -- where people sip their
beer -- is exposed.

Other brewers, including Anheuser-Busch, have further complicated the can vs.
bottle debate by introducing a new player into the pack: 12-ounce aluminum
bottles. The firms promise consumers colder beer in bottles that can't break

One thing that is without dispute is beer temperature. Once you open the can of
beer the container has trouble keeping the liquid cold. Because of the nature of
glass, beer in bottles stays cold longer even after it’s open.

What about the impact on the environment? Hands down, bottles win in the deba
te on environmental impact. In fact the best thing you can do for the environment
is to buy bottle beer from local brewery that is known to recycle glass for its
bottles. This saves gas used in transportation, and

avoids using aluminium.

Aluminium itself is not the problem. The problem is in the process. Aluminium is
the third most common element in the world. There’s no danger of running out of
aluminium anytime soon. The environmental impact comes from how aluminium
is made. To make aluminium usable it takes a great deal of energy. Using
energy uses oil, and oil is a resource that is running out.

So if you are someone who believes in recycling, likes your beer cold, and
believes glass improves the flavor then you want to drink bottled beer. If you are
someone for whom convenience is more important and who drinks beer at any
temperature, then canned beer is the solution for you. If you’re like most people,
you drink canned beer and bottle beer depending on the occasion. You might
take canned beer when you tailgate and drink bottled beer at home. It’s a win-
win situation for everybody.

Certainly, beer has come a long way since the days of the cask and leather
flagons. In those days, long before refrigeration and before pasteurization, beer
storage was an issue. Beer had to be drunk quickly to keep it from spoiling.

Belgium monks are often credited with making the first bottled beer several
centuries ago.   The question they had to deal with was just how to seal the
bottle. Eventually, beer makers tried everything from wax to cork. The cork
solution lasted hundreds of years and worked well until the wire loop closure was
developed   That closure worked especially well since bottles were then short,
bell shaped and looked like mason jars.

Most beer makers embossed the name of their beer right into the bottle since it
was the only way to let people know what kind of beer they were drinking. While
some breweries still use embossing today the paper label quickly become
dominate by the early 20th century.

Over time, the shape of the bottle changed, becoming thinner and taller –
looking more like the beer bottles we know today. Brown was the color of choice
for these bottles since the brown glass effectively filtered out the rays of harmful  
sunlight that clear, and to a lesser extent, green bottles do not.

Another theory about why beer bottles are brown has to do with the glass
making process itself. Some people claim that in past centuries it was much
harder to make clear glass than it was to make colored glass. Apparently,
crystal clear glass requires processes that were not developed until the
industrial age.  

After refrigeration was invented it wasn't as important to keep the bottles
opaque.  Dark bottles however still dominate today mainly due to tradition and to
brewers who want to give their product an extra level of protection from sunlight
"skunking".  To these purists the proliferation of green and clear bottles are
nothing more than misguided marketing gimmicks.

So having said all of this should you buy your beer in a glass or can?  The official
position of BeerNeus is that a bad beer is a bad beer whether it's in a glass or
can. And a good beer is good no matter what way you package it.  

G. Krueger Brewing Co.
American Can Company   
June 24, 1933   
Newark, NJ  
The History of Growlers and Beer Cans
Jim Koch