It’s a popular debate among many craft beer drinkers. Which is better: can or bottle? While most beer enthusiasts have a preference, many people believe one is better than the other when it comes to quality, freshness, and flavor of the beer it contains.
Despite popular belief, there is no hard answer as to which is better: cans or bottles. Instead, there are many factors at play that may favor one over the other, such as sustainability and beer quality. Below, we dive deep into some of the reasons at play and determine which (can or bottle) is better in each category.
Do Cans Contribute a Metallic Taste to Beer or Leach Metal into the Beer?
If you do taste metal in your beer, it’s not coming from the aluminum cans. A metallic taste is one of the commonly identified off-flavors in beer, often derived from iron-rich water.
This is one of the reasons we take such pride in our pure Pacific Northwest water supply. Since the largest ingredient in beer is water, it’s an important one to ensure top quality.
Are Cans or Bottles More Sustainable?
Both cans and bottles have their pros and cons when it comes to sustainability. It really comes down to a mix of manufacturing processes, raw materials, additional packaging, and transportation/shipping.
Glass bottles ran the market for several decades before cans took up speed in the last few years, and for good reason. Glass bottles are usually made from 20-30% recycled materials and silica, which has been documented as having very little environmental impact. Plus, an estimated 80% of all glass bottles end up being recycled, which is a pretty good turnover rate!
So what’s the downside? Glass is heavy, which can be problematic in two areas. First are foremost, shipping bottles has a higher carbon footprint, which, for most breweries, is twofold: shipping empty bottles to the packaging facility and distributing beer to stores. Second, bottle packaging generally requires more and/or heavier secondary packaging.
Cans have risen in popularity the last several years, in part due to preference of the beer drinker, but also in part due to sustainability benefits where glass bottles lack. Aluminum is lighter, meaning a reduced carbon footprint for transporting materials, and less secondary packaging materials.
But the major downside to cans is the need for new aluminum. While even recycled cans contain up to an estimated 70 percent recycled aluminum, some new metal is always needed, which is obtained from mining. Plus, the rise in popularity has created a demand for more new aluminum cans.
While there are pros and cons to both, we’re thankful for the research being done on sustainability topics like these. At Ninkasi, we also strive for a Zero Waste policy and cut down on our waste and carbon footprint wherever we can.
Which Keeps Beer Freshest?
Can Lids vs. Bottle Crowns
When it comes to the seal of the beer (can lid vs. bottlecap), both are secured in a manner that will keep the beer fresh through its shelf life (for Ninkasi beers, this is generally 90-120 days after packaging), though cans do have a slight advantage in preventing oxidation.
Canned beer lids and can body are crimped and glued together, thus creating a very tight seal to prevent any oxygen from reaching the beer, and therefore preventing the oxidation process, which leads to an off-flavor most people recognize as “papery” or “like cardboard”.
Bottle caps (called a “crown”), on the other hand, are crimped onto the glass lip. Because the sealing of the bottle crown involves sandwiching three materials (glass, liner, metal) together, it doesn’t create a 100% gas-tight seal (only about 99.9%). While this is tight enough to keep liquid and carbonation inside the bottle, it’s not quite tight enough to keep oxygen from slowly seeping through and oxidizing the beer.
The overall difference is small but noticeable over time. Plus, beer will never go “bad”, per se, but rather lose its freshness and perfect flavor over time.
Light and its Impact on Beer
Another differentiator comes from the ability of aluminum cans to truly prevent any light from hitting your beer, an important consideration when it comes to freshness. Beer that becomes light-struck causes a chemical reaction in the beer, most commonly called “skunk”.
For this reason, most beer bottles are brown, to slow down the process of the beer becoming light-struck over time. However, no bottle is completely opaque, and cans are successful at blocking out all light, unlike glass bottles.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both bottles and cans. At Ninkasi, we use both and strive for sustainable practices while keeping our quality and freshness top-notch. Our team of experts from quality, sourcing, and brewing constantly keeps up with developments in bottles and cans when it comes to quality and sustainability to ensure we make the best possible decisions for our craft beer community and the environment.
Which do you prefer: can or bottle? Tell us in the comments below!