Last month, Business Insider published an article about why canned beer is better. At first glance, I found myself agreeing with the points raised. Rationally it seemed that, although they had served in the past, bottles were obsolete. But at the same time I also felt like I was putting down a loyal dog; it just didn’t feel right. Conflicted, I started making a list of pro’s and con’s for canning so that I could see the whole picture a little more clearly. Here is what I came up with.
Good things about canning
While it is true that some of the least interesting beer in the world is canned (looking at you Miller/Bud/Coors), this doesn’t mean that canning hurts beer. In fact, one of the highest rated of craft beers (Heady Topper, according to BeerAdvocate) is only available in a can. This means people should look beyond simple associations that give canning a bad wrap. Just because some bad beer is put in cans it doesn’t mean all beer in cans is bad.
It may provide better taste
Some could argue that a can is less permeable than a bottle, especially when light is concerned. Light-strike, as it is called, is effectively a non-issue with canned beer. You’d think that a metal can would make the beer taste like metal, but this isn’t so. This is because each can is lined with plastic (BPA) so that the beer never actually touches the aluminum.
It costs less per beer than bottling.
Another plus to canning is the cost; canning beats bottling any day of the week, assuming new bottles and fully automatic equipment. Compared to bottles, cans also weigh less (~90%), allowing breweries to ship for less money.
Easier to recycle
Not to be confused with reuse, recycling is much easier with beer cans than bottles. Aluminum recycling is widespread and is very accessible, while glass recycling is less so.
Bad things about canning
The liner in cans (containing BPA) isn’t doing any good.
This is a point of controversy, to be sure. Some will argue that BPA only affects children and that overall it doesn’t cause a problem. Time will tell who is right.
High start-up costs
Canning involves shaping the metal of each and every can. This is a little more complicated than pressing on a bottle cap. The process creates what’s called a “double seam”, locking the metal together. Naturally this is not a process that can be done by hand. Because of this, many breweries start out bottling, even though it is slightly less efficient.
While bottle reuse happens all the time (especially in other countries), it is not possible to reuse cans. This means that they must be melted and reformed, using time and energy. Compare this to bottles, which need only to be cleaned to be reused. In some countries, bottle reuse is as high as 90%, saving much time and energy. Another alternative to cans would be growlers, which can be filled from local breweries and brewpubs over and over.
So where does this leave us? Canning is good for some things but not for everything. I think that for local distribution, breweries should provide growlers and bottles, reusing them as possible. For national distribution, however, canning looks to be the best option. Perhaps local breweries can find ways to use “traveling canning lines,” so that they can better fit their product to where it is going.
Photo by apermanentwreck