Cans Are Better Than Bottles (And Other Lies Your Beer-Geek Buddy Told You)


Canning line at Avery topping off White Rascals

Take a second to remove the cold, crisp, canned beer away from your lips. Tilt it back; run your fingers along the condensation dripping from its walls; give her a squeeze; squint a single eye if you must and jut your lower lip out in an ever-present look of absolute assurance. Run your eyes along its body; study its physique; feel – without a speck of temperature-controlled blue paint – the sexiness of the metal cylinder. Cheers to your closest friends and feel good about your favorite craft beer being available in a can – a vessel that for far too long stood as the perfect example as to why your father’s Budweiser sucked. The fact is, cans as a means to drinking yourself to sleep are incredible, and while the tales surrounding their ability to protect or elongate the shelf life of the beer they contain may be nothing more than myth or misconstrued fact, the fact remains: craft consumers as a whole love their beer in cans.

For those of you who’ve been enjoying Colorado’s wide portfolio of craft beers, think back to the last time you and few drinking buddies were truly pumped to buy a craft beer in bottles. Maybe you purchased La Folie before they moved to silk-screened bombers, when a gorgeous bottle with a PR-forward neck tag tempted you to buy a rather esoteric barrel-aged beer that had apparently been…soured (?). Maybe you were pumped when a particular beer was available in your market, hidden in the cooler and only available to those in the know. But honestly, when was the last time you bought a bomber of beer and raised hell over the fact that it was in a really big brown glass bottle?

As an individual who’s spent that last six years of his life packaging beer, this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the neo-packaging apex. This is, perhaps, the first time since those corked and caged 750 mL bottles were introduced to the American craft beer market that the actual package itself is popular. Where once the brewery chatter focused solely on a beer’s dry-hopping rates or Belgian yeast strains, there are new conversations being had surrounding how much lighter cans are when hiking, their superior ability to preserve a beer’s freshness, and how environmentally friendly they are. What this means for the craft beer market is undeterminable, and there’s a thin line over which we stand separating the necessity and practicality of beer packaged in bottles or cans.

As much as we’d like to fight it, we are a nation run on marketing campaigns, and apart from the uber-conscious, no one is immune. As local-focused and anti-corporate as one might be, it’s still likely they’d base their earth-friendly, organic purchases on the unnecessary, graphic-centric packaging containing the product. There’s a reason brands change their identities as often as they do; and to be honest, there is nothing wrong with buying into it, for every image has its prey, and in this case a brewery has to do nothing more than wave a shiny object in front of us until we’re all too eager to bite down on the hook.

That’s business, and there is a lot of money to be made of peoples’ perceptions of how their beer will taste in a can, from a 3,000 barrel small-scale facility up to the nation’s largest craft brewer, Boston Beer Company (BBC). The mega-craft force behind a little know beer brand by the name of Sam Adams. These are the same folks who ran countless ads promoting their brown bottles and extra tall 6-pack carriers, are now claiming to have invested over a million dollars into a specially designed can that offers an elongated neck and larger mouth hole positioned closer to the drinker’s nose – for “better overall tasting.” In the past, BBC has been kind enough to provide hops to breweries in need, especially during shortages. In that same vein they’ve been kind enough to share their patent-pending million dollar design with any brewery who works with Ball Corporation’s canning division. What differences these modifications will make has yet to be determined, but there is no questioning how popular the folks in Boston think their cans will be.

Another brewery, Sly Fox, out of Pottstown, PA, made great waves in the salty oceans of beer geekdom this past spring when they introduced the 360 Lid. This Crown Holdings, Inc. manufactured product allows the consumer to rip a 1.75” opening in the top of their cans, creating a pint-like experience without having to pour your beer into an actual glass.

Trendy? Necessary? Does it all seem like a bit much? It may be, but it’s a hell of a lot cooler than the joke that is Vortex bottles. Yet another expensive investment from the makers of Miller Lite, the specially designed grooves did so little to affect the dynamic of the beer’s consumption that the commercials couldn’t really explain anything more than the fact that they were, uh…well…vortex. If anything this largely mocked campaign did more harm than good by further antiquating the image of bottles in the eyes of the consumer.

Next: The sweet spot where marketing and function collide

About Jesse Brookstein

A product of Clinton, NY (a quaint little drinking village on the outskirts of Utica), Jesse quickly grew to appreciate all things beer. After a few years driving beer trucks and a brief internship at Brewery Ommegang, he moved to Colorado in 2006 to further his career in the craft brewing industry. In 2007, he joined the packaging team at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, CO, and held the post of Packaging Manager for three years before resigning in 2014 to open Call to Arms Brewing Company in Denver with two of his former Avery colleagues.

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  • tbeseda

    Good article, so much knowledge. (I didn’t know that sorters have a hard time with crushed cans!)

    Another reason I prefer cans these days: just about everywhere I go glass is illegal (so is ABV/W over 3.2%, oh well).

    Also, I do think there is a solid argument for the gain in transport efficiency. Cans ship the same amount of beer in less volume and weight. This is good for operating cost. Fractions of cents really do matter; to business owners, investors, bean counters, and even consumers.

    Looking forward to more insight into the inner workings of the industry. Cheers.

  • xavier cordova

    By your article it seems that cans are better, even if the advantage is slight. Which is as you stated, they preserve against oxygen better than bottles, and for breweries cans are cheaper. The other arguments seem to be a wash, fuel used, packaging practices/quality assurance, recycle-ability or the tendency of consumers to actually recycle. Those would be there no matter what container used. You didn’t mention that bottles let UV rays oxidize hop compounds and that the crowns on bottles tend to absorb hop compounds. Great beers have existed for a long time in bottles and an absolute need to change doesn’t exist, but it seems that cans are in fact better if only by a slight margin.

    On a side note, even though cans are cheaper for breweries in the long run, as I understand it right now its a lot more expensive for a starting brewery to begin canning than it is to bottle. So the cheaper canning option is only available to the companies that have the capital to buy the equipment and volumes that cans are sold in. Not even mentioning the space it takes to house that all of that, compared to bottling.

  • Beer in Colorado

    I second Xavier’s point (cans keep out light) and tbeseda’s point (cans are allowed where bottles are not). I’d also like to add that weight is indeed an issue for the consumer when we’re hauling a cooler full of beer or if we plan to enjoy a nice brew atop a 14er. Plus, you don’t need an opener with a can and cans won’t shatter if they’re dropped.

    The article pretty much calls the bottle v. can argument a draw but, based on these three comments, I think it’s pretty clear that cans are the winner.