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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nice Cans

The latest entrant into the canned market: Hopworks.  By coincidence, Bloomberg posts a "Chart of the Day" showing that, thanks to craft beer, cans are back on top in American packaging.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Bloomberg.

I'm not totally sure how I feel about the trend.  As far as pure aesthetics go, cans suck, and it turns out I'm fairly persuaded by aesthetics.  What do you think?  Is the cans trend remotely interesting to you?


  1. Based solely on ease of packaging, cans are the way to go. My husband was so much happier when he worked can lines vs. bottle lines.

    On a taste note, I prefer to drink out of a bottle. Fun fact: Back in the old days of Anheuser-Busch, ABIII only drank out of bottle so if they was bad batch at the brewery, it went into cans to prevent any punishment from the big boss.

  2. Ike Manchester at Widmer once told me that when they do oxidation tests on bottles and different closures, cans were used as a control. I like cans because of the lower oxidation levels and lack of UV light. Once you pour it in a glass, who can tell. Go buy a Pilsner Urquell in a can and a bottle. Pour them both and taste them side by side - you'll likely be won over to cans pretty quickly.

    On the down side, I've heard that recycling aluminum costs and pollutes more than recycling glass, but I can find the reference so take that with a grain of salt.

  3. That should read that "when the beer industry does oxidaiton tests" - not Widmer per se. Ike was the source of the info, but he was talking about industry wide tests - not individual ones at Widmer (just to be clear)

  4. Cans are potentially better at blocking light and being airtight. However, I think the contents go through more drastic temperature exchanges with the thin aluminum wall versus thicker glass. The can 'pimps' never mention that and temperature fluctuations DO effect the quality of stored beer.

    I also personally think that New Belgian Ranger has tasted better to me out of the bottle (yes we did taste bottled and canned Ranger side by side).

    On the flip side I think cans are a more convenient package. Easier to recycle (where I live) and easier to crush down the empties when backpacking or at the park.

    I have always been told that cans are the more ecological choice but I have never really seen any data on that claim.

  5. A comment on the graph: Why are bottles and draft grouped together? They should all be separate. If anything cans and bottles should be grouped together and draft separate.

  6. In regards to the glass vs. can energy loses some of it's structure during the breakdown process while aluminum hardly loses any.

  7. Deborah Schultz2:13 PM, June 20, 2012

    Yeah - we love cans! The beer stays better for longer (no oxidation from the sun) in cans. And cans make it far easier to take a beer to the beach, park, or cabin. And to boot, recycling cans requires far less energy cost than recycling glass. We've been asking our favorite brewers to get into canning, and thankfully the trend is taking on!

  8. All good points, though Bill, you're really stacking the deck by picking a European pilsner shipped in green glass to make your point. :-)

    As far as the graph goes, James, draft beer makes up about 10% of sales and has for decades. (After dipping below 10% for the first time in '98, it's been ticking back up, but is still a shade below.)

  9. Damn you Jeff Allworth for stealing both my next post topic and title!!

  10. Yes Jeff, I am stacking the deck, but I use cans whenever possible for imports in classes I do because the contents are generally in better shape. On local craft offerings it might not be as big a difference, but so many of the beers I need for classes are imports and imports are a crap shoot here since we have so much local beer (even if you purchase them from a reliable source that stores them well), so I go for cans if at all possible.

    You can also try the same experiment with Warsteiner in cans and brown bottles. (We tasted both at an OBC meeting in Feb and there was a huge difference and most people thought the canned version tatsed better.

  11. Bill Schneller (again)6:27 PM, June 20, 2012

    I can't get anything right on the first try today - not Warsteiner. Bitburger in brown bottles vs cans.

  12. In April, I conducted a can versus bottle test of 4 different beer.
    - Boulder Beer-Hazed and Confused Pale Ale
    - New Belgium-Ranger IPA
    - New Belgium-Sunshine Wheat Ale
    - Sierra Nevada-Pale Ale
    In each case the use-by dates were very similar.

    In each case, I perceived a difference between the mouth feel of the canned and bottled beer; the canned beer seemed smoother, richer, maltier. As time elapsed I perceived less of a difference.

    A plausible explanation is that the bottlers increase the level of CO2 in anticipation of loss over time and the bottle beers have a higher level of carbonic acid
    [CO2 + H2O = H2CO3].

    On a separate note, I talked to a local nano-brewery about can v bottle. I asked
    "Why can? Is it merely because it is cheaper?"

    He said: It is cheaper; but, it is really about preserving the beer.

    I told him about my NBBC Ranger IPA test. He said, buy two similar age beers, put them on the shelf for a month and a half, and then conduct your sippy test. He believes, after 06-08 weeks, a bottled beer will exhibit degradation; a canned beer, not.

  13. Jack, that's a fascinating hypothesis about the carbonation level. I'd like to talk to Ken Grossman about it--that's one guy who knows to the molecule how much CO2 is dissolved in his beer.

    Bill, I will stipulate that cans are better for international beers with one HUGE caveat. And although I don't really have a dog in this fight, it is on that caveat I hang my hat.

    Bottle conditioning. A majority of Belgian ales depend on bottle conditioning to achieve their character. That process is not only key to the beer, but also helps preserve it. Jack, I would happily put a three-month-old bottle-conditioned beer up against a can.

    I admit this is far afield of where I started, which was with Hopworks--a beer that will travel a few miles in its life from brewery to my fridge. (As is the case with other American micros, mostly.) And I was also thinking mainly the aesthetics of the thing.

  14. Jeff, agreed on bottle conditioning, and not just for Belgian ales. Don't forget things like Fuller's 1845.

  15. And don't forget all the BPA that you're drinking with your cans!

    "More Americans Are Drinking BPA In Canned Beer, Thanks To The Economy and The Pabst Drinking Hipsters"

  16. Can cheaper. Cheaper gooder:

  17. Aesthetically its a toss up for me. The wrap-around graphic nature of a can can be a great thing, but a lot of breweries who can do not utilize it. Then again some bottles have nice graphics, but others plain out suck. I find I go for the cans b/c I have to lug them home after work and a sixer of cans is easier to fit in the backpack.

  18. It's possible that I coined Canboi.

  19. Hey Jeff, I'm currently doing some craft beer research. What are the most important things to consider when looking at craft beers?
    Which brands are hot?
    Which are overrated?
    Up and coming?
    What do they recommend and why? Thoughts?

  20. Regarding bottle conditioned: SN says that they 'can condition' the beer. Is that possible or just marketing?
    Regarding cans are cheaper: It's been my experience that the same beer in bottles is still cheaper than cans. SN Pale Ale for example is cheaper in glass. Who is selling their canned offerings cheaper than the same beer in bottles?

  21. I like cans when I want to be discreet. Not that I would ever break the law, no, not me. But it's pretty easy to pack in a couple of cans in a golf bag, or to a ball game (if you can find one in this town). Anderson Valley IPA is particularly good in this regard, because except for the label, it could be mistaken for a can of grape soda.

  22. My experience is that most craft beers in a can cost more than the similar specimen in a bottle. This is annoying and it has to change...which it surely will as cans become more mainstream. Make no mistake, cans (and I'm referring to aluminum, not steel) are the wave of the future. For a lot of reasons. In a few years, most of what you see on the beer shelves in grocery and convenience stores will be in cans.

  23. @Norman
    'Regarding cans are cheaper: It's been my experience that the same beer in bottles is still cheaper'
    - My point was regarding canning being cheaper for the producer
    'cans are the wave of the future'
    In Boulder County, the future is now. Two BoCo craft breweries [Oskar Blues & Upslope] retail in cans only; no bottles. Three others are releasing more cans.
    ===Altitude Factor===
    Colorado, New Mexico craft breweries package at altitude.

    A couple of years ago I brought a 6er of cans from a Boulder nano-brewery to pals in Salem, Ore. One astutely noted the beer was flat. The Boulder nano-brewery had apparently not carbonated the beer sufficient for the higher atmospheric pressure at low altitude. If it's not one thing, it's another.

    Coors solved that problem decades ago when they expanded beyond regional.

  24. There is something about label art when applied to cans that is extremely disappointing. The problem is in the application, not the art.

  25. Jeff,

    I actually like buying cans just to save space in the fridge. Also, the recycling speed and ease of cans is much better.

    And, btw, I'm bringing you some Three Floyds back from Louisville, but you gotta share! ;)

  26. Beer Fairy, you rock. I actually have a nice homebrew in the cellar that I think you'll like, too.