by Mike Kasworm
Lately there seems to be a huge shift going on in breweries. Many are moving to cans for containing the craft beer we love so much. If I’m honest, it concerns me a bit.
Here in Nebraska, Thunderhead Brewing, Blue Blood Brewing and Nebraska Brewing Company’s non-specialties appear to be in cans only, some breweries starting out are ONLY using cans like Upslope brewing out of Colorado and others… I may get a lot of crap for this, but I’ like to write a little defense here for the increasingly belittled bottle.
Cans are better in many ways
I can’t argue that cans are better for shipping – both in how they stack on a palate, and in weight – light proofing, portability and chilling time… They are all great points. They are probably why, to varying degrees, we’ll lose most of our bottles in the future save for specialty and cellaring bottles.
Due to the controversial nature of the point, I won’t complain about the metal taste that I still perceive from cans either. Some folks say they just don’t taste it, but just as Nitro taps affect the taste of a beer, the metal/liner and pressure change seem to affect the taste in my experience. What I’d like to focus on instead, is how bottles are a pleasing part of the experience of drinking a beer. Not just flavor, but the entire enjoyment is affected when one goes to cans.
The Light Argument (my problem with it)
I buy my beer at places with high turnover and keep it in the fridge until I enjoy it. I also tend to buy beer from respected brewers who use brown bottles and tend to have high sided cases to fend off most light exposure. Given all of this, light just isn’t an issue for me.
What if you are you some sort of heathen who keeps your beer warm in a garage for days/weeks at a time, or near your windowsill for some reason? I’d argue that you care so little about the beer in the first place that you don’t get an opinion in this matter.
If you are a green bottle Euro drinker… well, you already like skunky beer. Lost cause as far as I’m concerned.
When I crack a bottled beer in the summer time, I love how the sun jumps through the slightly imperfect bottle… maybe I’m the only one. I don’t worry about that light hitting my beer as I drink it, there wont be enough time to develop the off flavors people talk about due to sunlight. I like touching and admiring the raised imprint on the glass showing a logo or some other simple illustration, the manufacturer may even opt for a cool texture on the bottom or a ring around the top.
Bottles seem to vary a lot more in height and neck design than ANY cans I’ve ever seen as well. This adds to the overall aesthetic of the beer and for me, is as pleasing and interesting as well as distinguishing the beer from others on the shelf.
Cans, for the most part, are all the same width, same height, same circumference. There is no variation in texture (excepting the Zombie Monkey can “tactical texture”) or specially stamped additions. This adds to the stackability and standardization, as mentioned above, but it also takes away from the very artisanal nature of craft beer.
Thinking about labels, the can is a metal surface and generally beer marketers will fill the whole thing with a pattern and then add art on top of it. There are some companies/cans that use the natural aluminum sheen as “negative space’ but this is pretty rare. This leads to brightly colored cans with very obvious branding, but it seems more marketing is NOT what we need in beer… and this is a person who holds a B.S. in Marketing saying this. A bottle forces the designer to think in terms of a blank slate that can be covered, but could also be left blank to show the amount, the clarity, or the rough color of the contents.
Speaking of seeing the amount left in the bottle… Bartenders will generally keep an eye on your drink and ask you if you’d like a refill before your drink is empty. This is so that you stay “in the groove” and just keep drinking, leading to a higher bar tab and tip. When drinking out of cans (usually Bud Light at the College World Series or PBR if I feel like being a hipster) in the past I’ve had trouble getting bartenders to notice my can was empty, even after moving it forward towards them or denting the can. This might seem like a small thing, and will vary quite a bit depending on the situation, but it is a valid difference… you can’t see that a can is empty.
I’ve saved my favorite part about bottles until now, THE CAPS! I love bottle caps. They are a great way to show off the types of beer you’ve had without keeping a bunch of bottles around. Right now I’ve got a bunch of bottle caps stuck to my beer fridge with small rare earth magnets, and this display has been complimented several times by folks that come over. “Wow, you have tried a LOT of beers!” Damn right!
You can also get crafty and make all sorts of items from the caps. I’ve seen coffee tables, man cave bar tops, US flag mosaics and even a chandelier made from bottle caps. At Left Hand Brewing in Longmont Colorado they have a fish hanging in their tasting room made from the caps of their beer that was so memorable to me, that I am mentioning it here. A quick Google search even brings it up, behold the awesome folk art!
Chilling Time = Warming Time
I said I couldn’t argue this point earlier, but I just realized that a faster chilling time, ostensibly a good thing, is a double edged sword. If you are drinking a beer outside in the heat of the summer, a can will absolutely get warmer faster… especially if you are holding the can in your hand. Aluminum is used for heat sinks because is moves heat very efficiently, and in this case it is moving heat from the environment directly into your beer!
So, there you have it.
That is every good point I can muster in defense of bottles. I really hope the slow march towards cans is just a fad, but in case it isn’t just in my head I’ve firmly planted my flag in the Bottle Camp. #TeamBottle
Whether you agree or not, I’d be interested to hear YOUR thoughts on the nature of Bottles vs. Cans. The comment box below is always open. :)