Trending: The Beer Can

I’m just going to come right out and say it: there is nothing wrong with beer in a can. 

That could potentially have been the whole blog post. Of course there is more to it than that. Generally, beer cans are associated with ‘cheap’ lagers and for many years this has definitely been the case. However, times are changing (insert appropriate music video). Barring the many practical purposes of using cans instead of bottles (such as price), beer cans also give smaller breweries the opportunity to stand out on the shelf. On top of that, consumers today also have higher quality standards, which is an important consideration when choosing the right packaging.

Is the beer can the future? I believe it is. Will you be convinced after reading this blog? Possibly. Whatever your current conviction is, brewers have started making a switch to cans and there is no stopping them. According to the latest 2017 figures of consumer research firm Nielsen, cans now make up a quarter of the beers sold in the UK. There are, however, still several arguments against using cans. I’ll let you be the judge!

Cans are the best storage for beer

A brewer’s first and foremost concern is guaranteeing great quality beer from the brewery all the way to the beer enthusiast. When it comes to storing beer, you want to avoid any risk of light or oxygen getting in. When a beer is ‘lightstruck’, ultraviolet light interacts with the bitter hop compounds and changes the flavor, causing beers to become ‘skunky’. That is why all brewers recommend you keep beers in a cool and dark place. Brown glass is the least affected, then green (e.g. Heineken). Clear glass gives you about a 100% chance of lightstruck beer. So why does Corona come in clear glass bottles? To produce Corona, hydrogenated hop extracts are used to minimize the effects of light on the beer. It may look cool, but chemically altered beer? No thanks.

The seal on a can is also tighter than on a bottle cap, keeping the beer as fresh as possible. Oxidized beer has a recognizable wet cardboard, papery or ‘stale’ taste that unavoidably will lead to a very sad drain pour. 

Finally, beer cans cool much faster than glass. Great for BYO parties and if you can’t wait to try that special one you just brought home from the beer store!

There are some technical limitations when it comes to certain French and Belgian styles. Cans apparently can’t be filled with the volume of CO2 that is required, which may limit secondary fermentation in cans.

Cans are easier to transport 

Cans are lighter than bottles and stackable, taking up less space. They are therefore easier and cheaper to transport (also for the consumer!) and leave a smaller carbon footprint (although if they have a plastic sleeve, it requires additional shipping to and from the can wrapper, making the environmental discussion a bit more complicated, which might be a little too much for this particular blog post). According to the marketing director of Oskar Blues Brewery in an interview in 2014, their brewery can get 100 cases of canned beer onto a pallet, versus 60 to 72 cases in bottles.

Cans leave more space for eye-catching labels

There’s no second chance for a first impression. No matter how great the beer is, if the packaging is not attractive, more likely than not you will pass it by without giving it a closer look. Moreover, it gives anti-establishment craft brewers the opportunity to break with the traditional brewing imagery. Some go as far as to create works of art, which are gratefully photographed and exploding on the Instagram scene. Below are a few examples of distinctive and unique labels. What do you think, hit or miss?

Mikkeller labels are immediately recognizable
Omnipollo - another Scandinavian brewery that has mastered the art of beer labels
High Fashion by Trillium Brewing, hot or not?
Het Uiltje (collab with North Brewing) - one of the first Dutch craft breweries to use cans

Cans are more environmentally friendly – or are they?

Assuming you are one of those lovely people that actually throws used cans in the trash instead of leaving them lying around the beach (extremely vexing!), chances are someone will be drinking from them in the near future. Used aluminium cans can be recycled and back on supermarket shelves in as little as 60 days. Aluminium is infinitely recyclable, meaning it can be recycled over and over again without degrading. Because of this efficiency, 75% of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today according to The Aluminum Association. Recycling aluminium takes 95 percent less energy than creating new ones. 

The downside is that new cans will still need to be produced on some level, which requires mining for bauxite ore, an environmentally unfriendly process and twice as energy-intensive as making a similarly sized glass bottle.

Another thing to be aware of is that all metal food and beverage cans have a thin coating on the interior surface to prevent corrosion of the can and keep the food from reacting to the aluminium. The epoxy lining contains bisphenol A (BPA) that has become associated with a range of ailments, including cancer. I almost got lost in all the discussions on the internet about BPA safety. Government and scientific institutions maintain that BPA in very small quantities is not a hazard (interestingly the French government disagrees and has imposed a ban). Furthermore, some claim that BPA does not actually transfer to the food or liquid. However, several studies like this one by a team from Harvard in 2011, show otherwise. Both sides make strong cases, so it us up to you – the consumer – to decide what makes more sense to you. Considering the fast-paced and brilliant technological developments, I believe that we will also be able to solve the BPA ‘problem’ in the future, ending that discussion once and for all.

Cans are not drinking vessels

Not a pro or con in itself, but in my opinion an important piece of information to include while we’re on the topic. No doubt a controversial statement, but let me elaborate. Craft beer is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated in all its aromatic and tasteful glory. Since we mainly ‘taste’ flavors through the nose, most craft beers (much like wine) need some air to breathe and release those wonderful aromas. Chugging the beer down from a can is definitely not what the brewer intended.

What’s more, the carbon dioxide in beer doesn’t vanish magically; it has to go somewhere. Pouring the beer in a glass also helps release some of the carbon dioxide (that in turn helps release the aromas) and prevents your stomach from getting bloated, leaving you room for more beer!

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