(Originally posted as a guest article on Hop Talk)
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Take your filthy hands off my beer can!

Within the wine, beer and spirits world, passions run deep.  And so do the divisions.  Whether it is beer vs. wine, red vs. white, or vodka vs. bourbon, the warring camps of devotees are steadfast and thirsty for the other’s blood.  Whether it is double- vs. triple-distilled, screw cap vs. cork, or old world vs. new world, you’re going to get some pretty set opinions.  “A screw cap on my wine?  I ought a bust you in the lip and drown you in a vat of Yellow Tail Shiraz!”  Well, one of the most famous is the can vs bottle division, but the lines are being redrawn.  Change in the beer world is coming…. you afraid of the can?  Well, my friend, it may be time to look again.

So often the choices we make in what we drink tell us a lot about the person.  Like wearing an Armani suit, strutting around with a bottle of Sam Adams Utopia is an indicator of class, style and attitude.  I remember when just the sight of my bottles of microbrew was called out as being “fancy”, and I was regularly taunted by can-wielding upperclassmen.  And of course in this case, “fancy” meant arrogant, or high-falutant, like I was some sort of beer dandy or something.  Well, looks who laughing now, you Schlitz-drinkin d-bags…and no, you can’t have a bottle of my homebrew.  And now, the door has opened even further and we’re seeing the unthinkable:  microbrews in cans.  What the f?  A can?!  “But only swill comes out of a can”.  “Only those that care nothing about their beer would disgrace it with such a filthy vessel”, the naysayers rally.  And you’d be surprised just who is saying such things….

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A few years ago, Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) shocked the beer world with his blatant disregard of the can. In 2005, he released what he called the “Beer Drinkers Bill of Rights” to ensure better beer for one and all, and stated, “”Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.”  Uproar ensued in the microbrew community, especially at my beloved Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado where they have taken can technology to new heights and are the pioneers in leading the movement away from the beloved bottle.

The evolution of the can is a fascinating one.  As recently as the 1930’s, tin cans could not hold beer without exploding.  And then came the advent of the liner.  Initially made of vinyl (and fancy polymers today), they sealed the can, and prevented all liquid contact with the metal.  Over the years, the technology has improved ten-fold and the fear of tainting our precious bevies with metal has become irrational.  In fact, its seeming more and more like the can is the perfect vessel for beer.

I was fortunate to meet Dale Katechis, the founder of Oskar Blues brewery a few years ago at Brewtopia.  There in the midst of all these breweries and their countless bottles was a table filled with cans.  Huh?  It seemed so strange.  Yet for Dale, it was a subtle war cry; a shot across the stern of the micro beer community.  Dale’s Pale Ale was not just a great beer, but also a new philosophy: the Can is King.  Backed by the belief in “less air, less light”, Dale was upbeat, passionate and grounded in his renegade ways.  And the beer? Unbelievable.  Featuring caramel toffee notes highlighted by fresh hops and an intoxicatingly smooth balance, it is delicious, and was deemed the Top Colorado Brewed Beer by the Rocky Mtn News in November, as well as the NY Times pick as the Best Pale Ale in America in 2005.

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So fast-forward a few years, and cans are now popping up everywhere in the craft beer world.  Breweries like Butternuts in upstate New York, New Belgium in Ft Collins, Colorado, and most recently Sly Fox from Pennsylvania, to name a few, have begun canning.   They’re on the band wagon, and are espousing the advantages of the can:  better protection from light and air, easier storage and transport, as well as a quicker cooling time for your tailgate fiestas…So what does that mean for us, the beer drinkers?

Well, frankly, better beer.  Be it canned or bottled, brewers are testing and reinventing the ways we package our prized beverages.  Concerned with the freshness of their beer, every detail is being scrutinized  (and argued over).  But honestly, bottles aren’t going away.  The only thing that’s really changing?  You’re going to find some damn tasty microbrews in cans.  So embrace them, my friends.  Embrace them without shame.  The can will serve you well.

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21 Responses to “The Great Can vs Bottle Debate”

  1. David (pampdog) Palmer says:

    Nice expose my friend. Bottles baby…bottles. Best beer I ever tasted was (forgive me) a Bud Light in Alabama on a 100 degree 95 % humidity day. The air felt like a wet blanket and we stopped by some nappy redneck gas station that had one of those old case refrigerators that kept the beer at 31 degrees. I was drenched with sweat and I opened that bottle to the sweetest pffft sound I’d ever heard and I remember the ghost evaporating out of the top into the wet humid air. I put the bottle to my lips and tasted beer nectar as that crisp liquid entered my bod and cooled down my core. It was heaven. Couldn’t have happened with a can. But then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  2. Daniel says:

    This is an excellent essay. Just goes to show that it rarely pays to make sweeping generalizations, especially when just one innovation in canning or bottling technology can make you look like a traditionalist fool.

    You’ve found a new reader here! Looking forward to keeping up with you.

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

  3. [...] anti-can opinion was not supported by all. Some brewers say that cans allow less light and air into the beer and thus make the beer better. The cans also [...]

  4. Chris says:

    Dales Pale Ale is amazing. I’ve also had that Belgian in a can. It’s kind of a shock when you taste such tasty beer in a can – it’s so unexpected. I hope more micro brewers and craft brewer will sell their beer in cans.

    I think the can could be more environmentally friendly than the bottle, especially if they were made from recycled aluminum, they must have a lower transportation cost. But I think re-using your purchased bottles for your own homebrew might be the best re-use recycle low impact you can do as a beer drinker.

  5. Chris, you’re absolutely right. Oskar Blues also makes Mama’s Lil Yella Pils, which smacks you in the mouth with its freshness and vitality which I think is partly due to it being in a can.

    And in terms of the environmental impact, any weight reduction in the storage vessel makes a huge impact when you factor them being shipped around the country and the world. Those numbers add up quick and so does the fuel to transport them.

  6. [...] the brew more approachable for the novice.  (For more on the great can vs bottle debate, see this post by Grapes and Grains NYC.)  The other great thing about 21st’s cans is the attention to [...]

  7. [...] microbrews can be stored better in a can and your best varietals now almost exclusively found in screw cap — has box wine’s day [...]

  8. How are you, I read all your posts, keep them coming.

  9. trattiereb says:

    “But I think re-using your purchased bottles for your own homebrew might be the best re-use recycle low impact you can do as a beer drinker.”
    Where else can I read about it?

  10. Robert Kimball says:

    The case for cans makes sense–no light, less air.

    However my favorite beer is Moosehead which for years I have been drinking from bottles. So I bought some in cans–doesn’t taste bad just almost no taste at all.
    The bottled brew is far better. It’s as if the brew they put in bottles is not the same as what they put in cans.

    Can someone explain why?

    Bob-

  11. Bob, good point. I’ve noticed differences in the same beer served in bottles vs cans, as well. Not knowing the answer, I have a guess. Could be a different water source, as often times the canning facilities are in a different brewery than the one that may house the bottling line (as may be the case with a larger brewer like Moosehead).

  12. [...] Sky and New Belgium of Fort Collins, Colo., are testing the waters. Although drinkers continue to debate over taste, the canned Dale’s Pale Ale of Oskar Blues Brewery has been voted Colorado’s best [...]

  13. Up here in MA at Bishop’s Lounge we just added a 30 beer can menu including a large number of microbrews in addition to imports, and the usual domestics.Storage is so much easierr than bottles and we love the new six pack carriers.

  14. Jamie says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

  15. Chris says:

    What’s the difference between bottled beer with twist off caps and bottled beer needing a bottle opener to get open?

  16. [...] beer can revolution won’t happen overnight, there are still plenty of stubborn bottled beer hold-outs like [...]

  17. tudval says:

    It’s not different water source, as EVERY beer that I tasted, that comes in both cans and bottles, tasted better from the bottle in every aspect (carbonation, aroma and taste).

  18. Tudval, thanks for dropping a line. I’m curious to know which beers you were able to try that are available in both can and bottle from the same area?

  19. Alex Strote says:

    interesting article on #Beer #Can VS #Bottle … obviously bottle wins…right??

    Maybe not…

    http://t.co/c2gpJFZ0

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