Given the literal and figurative climate in Minnesota right now, I would like to revisit the idea of canned beer.Craft beer in cans is becoming more and more common, and for good reason. But this isn’t to say that bottles are the way of the past or that they are appropriate for every beer, certainly not. I outlined some of the biggest arguments for and against cans one year ago this month, and I would like to revisit the issue, given the fact that one of the better-known breweries in Minnesota, St. Paul’s Summit Brewing, has now added canning to their production line.
Read on to consider the issue and see more resources regarding canning.
I can remember the first time I realized that there was any distinction between beer in a can and beer in a bottle, but at that time all I really considered was the material. I was buying beer to go on a Pedal Pub for my graduation from nursing school, and no glass was allowed.
Fearing that all I would be able to find was PBR (which has its place but is less than celebratory) I went to a specialty beer store [one of my first visits to The Four Firkins – where I now work!] and was very surprised to find they offered many beers in cans.
I went with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Guiness, banking on the fact that my classmates would need to supplement their American adjunct lager supply. They did.
While attempting to pedal our pub across town, I glanced around to see a decent variety of canned beer along for our trip. I was actually too short to do any real pedaling, so I had lots of time to observe (and to drink). Why are beer lovers so quick to turn their noses up at canned beer? Why don’t more new breweries install canning lines? I think it has to do with history, but like many facets of the beer world, things have drastically changed.
“If we all agree that craft beer is most importantly about, well, the beer, then cans win hands-down. Here’s why: they take care of the beautiful, tasty and refreshing liquid inside much better than bottles” [Decibel Magazine] Fighting off oxygen and light, cans provide the best protection. They are also more compact, easier to store, lighter, environmentally responsible, and packable.
Historically, canned beer has earned itself a pretty bad rap, but the reality is that the current generation of canned beer tastes absolutely no different than bottled beer. Sure, popping one open may not feel as gratifying as fumbling for a bottle opener, but ask anyone who likes to go camping, knows a thing or two about recycling, or has limited refrigerator space, and you’ll hear part of the strong case for cans.
Canned beer does not taste metallic. Despite what some may tell you, no metal actually touches the beer since the addition of epoxy spray about 40 years ago [gizmodo.com]. There is a negligible amount of BPA used in the spray, but your cold beer can is the least of your BPA problems. And if someone is still giving you a hard time about a metal can, go ahead and point out what a keg is made out of.
Okay, so cans aren’t any worse than bottles. Could they possibly be better? The answer is …maybe.
Cans are likely more environmentally responsible. Yes, it takes more resources up front to produce an aluminum can versus a glass bottle [OPB], however cans are more likely to be recycled – “about 45 percent of cans are recycled, compared with around 25 percent of bottles” [slate.com]. They weigh less by about half, cost less to transport, use far less energy to recycle, and often contain more recycled material. Cans also don’t require a paper label or adhesive. “Aluminum recycling is a very efficient process — manufacturers can melt down and reuse aluminum from reclaimed containers repeatedly with little loss in quality” [homeguides]. Moreover, much of the glass used in bottles is never reused; glass must be sorted by color, with green being highly undesirable for recycling due to the metals used to tint it.
I encourage you to take an objective look at canned beer. “Bottles are fragile, heavy, let in light that can skunk your beer, and are harder to pack in and out on float trips and hikes. Bottles don’t stack in the refrigerator. Plus if you drop a can it doesn’t shatter into a hundred tendon-lacerating shards. Half the time you can pick it back up and finish your drink!” [gizmodo.com]
The next time you hear someone contributing to canned beer’s bad name, ask them why. Educate them about the truths of canned beer, and don’t take it lying down.
There is a ton of information about canned beer, much of which has been written recently. For more information, including thoughts from several Minnesota brewers, see my friend and colleague, Micheal Wagner’s, article here.