Last week while drafting my post about Gose, I realized it was the first time the two featured beers were both canned. There is no doubt canned beer has grown. Stop in any beer retailer and you’ll see more cans than ever before. Many give credit to Oskar Blues for kicking off craft beer in a cans in 2002. And while some argue they weren’t the first, regardless, they were a trailblazer who paved the way for the current aged of canned craft beer.
I don’t have any hard numbers, but my gut tells me most new breweries are canning rather than bottling. Mobile canning services like Toucan are getting breweries like Jackalope on store shelves quickly without the brewery having to invest in packaging line. Toucan is serving the growing craft beer market in the Southeast, but there are dozens more helping small brewers put canned craft beer into retail coolers.
There are a lot of good reasons for canning, and the most important is beer quality. Packaged beer has three main enemies: Time, Light and Oxygen. Cans are better than bottles for two out of three. No can or bottle can protect beer from the aging process, and most beers don’t age well. Drink fresh beer, people. However, cans are superior to bottles at keeping out light and oxygen.
UV lights reacts with hop compounds to cause skunky beer. Brown glass, while good at filtering light, still lets 2% of UV light into the beer. Over time, the beer gets skunky. And it’s not just sunlight, those florescent bulbs in the grocery cooler can do it. Cans are impervious to light.
Oxygen oxidizes beer and leaves it tasting like paper, cardboard, sherry or wax. Over time, bottled beer oxidizes because oxygen gets past the cap. Those pry-off caps, while well sealed, can’t stop the creep of oxygen. Twist-off caps are worse. Sierra Nevada used twist-offs, but switched to pry-off caps in 2007 to let in less oxygen. The key word is “less.” Oxygen still gets in. This is why some breweries wax bottles. In theory, it keeps the oxygen out. Oxygen can’t get into a can, which is why no one waxes cans (except for Madtree’s awesome April Fool’s gag).
There are still beer drinkers who don’t like cans, claiming cans make beer taste metallic. While once true, today’s cans are lined with an inert plastic lining. There’s really no reason not to drink beer in cans and there are a lot of reasons to do so, here are a few:
- Cans are lighter. Brewers and distributors use less fuel to deliver them. Also, your cooler is easier to carry.
- Cans are convenient. You can take them anywhere. But, if you pack it in, pack it out!
- Cans are packable. What beer geek doesn’t love flying home with a suitcase full of beer not available back home. Cans travel well.
- Cans chill faster. Aluminums cools faster than glass. It’s science, y’all.
Craft cans aren’t going away. Glass bottles are dominant now, but I expect in 5-10 years, we’ll see cans overtake them. Regardless of what container it comes in, drink good beer.