Canned beer has come a long way from the stereotypical big lager brand ‘tinnies’. It seems that anyone who’s anyone is releasing their beer in cans these days. Canned beers have obviously been around for decades, but the craft beer movement was heavily bottle dominated until just a few years ago. The craft beer in cans trend seems to have begun in the US and quickly moved to the UK and the rest of the world, with a growing number of breweries now offering both cans and bottles as part of their range. Some breweries have even opted to only release their beer in cans. So why the switch? Well there are a number of reasons why aluminium cans are preferable to glass bottles.
Cans have a much tighter seal than bottles so they generally let in less oxygen. This ensures the beer keeps its fresh, ‘just from the brewery tanks’ taste. They are also opaque and so don’t let any light reach the beer. Light creates a chemical reaction in beer which alters its taste. This is a process called skunking. Most beer bottles are brown to try and eliminate this as much as possible but even brown glass still lets in light and after time, it really begins to alter the taste of the beer, creating a ‘skunky’ flavour. This is why you should never store bottled beers in direct sunlight and if you’re picking them from a shop, always go for one behind the front as it’ll have had less light exposure.
Cans are much easier to store since they can be stacked, so are ideal for maximising space on shelves. On shop shelves, bar shelves and your fridge shelves at home!
There’s a lot of debate on whether aluminium or glass is better for the environment. It seems that more aluminium cans are made from recycled materials than glass bottles are and the energy used to make cans from recycled aluminium is much less than making either bottles or cans from scratch. They also degrade an awful lot faster than glass does but do leach out harmful chemicals in the process whereas glass doesn’t.
However, they require less fuel to ship around since you can fit more cans onto a pallet than bottles so less shipments have to be made overall. The jury is admittedly still slightly out on this one though.
Glass breaks easily and is really dangerous when it does. Cans are much safer so a lot of venues are now switching to canned beer to avoid injuries sustained from broken glass. Cans also mean far fewer breakages in beer deliveries which is great as breweries can lose huge amounts of beer every year due to bottles being smashed in transit. Nobody likes the idea of wasted beer. Cans also stay cooler for longer, cool down much faster and, most importantly, they make much less noise when you carry them in your handbag…
There’s something about cans for me that just fit perfectly with the craft beer movement. A lot of breweries have their cans pre-printed with lots of colourful designs, and even if they do use a label, it covers more of the vessel so the design has a lot more impact. Just think of Beavertown Brewery, who are famous for their amazing can designs. They chose not to release their beers in bottles at all and I think this was a wise move as the designs just wouldn’t look the same on a bottle.
Despite all this, I still think there’s a place for glass bottles. Darker beers like stouts aren’t as affected by light, and don’t need to be drunk as freshly as an IPA for instance as they have less of a hop focus; so they really suit the bottle format. This is especially true for imperial stouts. I just wouldn’t feel right drinking an imperial stout that had been in a can! For me, you need the added weight and height from a bottle to add some theatrics to the experience of drinking it.
Originally published in Issue 5 of Flavourly Magazine. Words by Isla Mercer.