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Wednesday Food: Crafty Cans

Cans and beer have long lived hand in hand.  Mostly associated with commercially-produced, big name breweries, over the last few years the can has picked up increasing momentum in the craft beer world.

Oskar Blues and Capital Brewery were apparently the first to offer craft beer in cans, approximately ten years ago.  Now the number of breweries utilizing cans is estimated at 80– most popular in the Colorado regions–  with about 100 expected by the end of 2010.

I remain undecided on whether cans or bottles are the preferable approach so I will present what I know, and maybe conclusions can be drawn.

Cost: This is the major hurdle that has prevented breweries who would like to use cans from proceeding with the transition.  Canning equipment is more complicated and expensive than bottling equipment.  For a microbrewery who doesn’t yield as many annual barrels (fewer than 15,000), the cost of canning, either for sophisticated equipment or extra labor in hand-canning, is too great to even consider.  There is also a near-monopoly on can production and the unused cans have to be ordered in a quantity (something in the neighborhood of 100,000s), which far exceeds a microbrewery’s annual production.

Quality: Almost across the board I’ve learned that cans deliver a more fresh, less exposed beer.  This is simply because cans are more filled than bottles, which leave about 1.5 inches of space in the neck that exposes the beer to oxygen.  Because the cans are lined with plastic the flavor of the beer is not effected by a metallic taste.  Cans are also opaque, so there is no possibility of experiencing the skunky flavors that result from light exposure.

Environmental Appeal: Aluminum cans are considerably lighter than glass bottles (a tenth of the weight?), so in terms of shipping, less waste is produced with a lighter product.  While glass bottles can be reused more easily– by homebrewers, for example– the material requires more energy to be recycled.  However, while aluminum is a “cleaner” material to recycle, I have heard that the plastic lining meant to protect the beer has an adverse effect on the breakdown process.  But that claim is unsupported.

Saleability: Another advantage to cans is that they can be offered where glass isn’t an option– say pool side, golf course adjacent, or in a stadium.  Thanks to Virgin America, 21st Amendment is now available mid-flight.  Campers and backpackers who love beer will see the obvious advantage in a lightweight can.  Plus I like to think the stigma of canned beer associated as low-quality is nearly obsolete, but maybe I overestimate the “educated” consumer.

Does anyone have additional material/ viewpoints?…


August 18, 2010 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. I’ve still only seen a couple beers in cans — Ska’s Modus Hoperandi and (I forget the brewery?) Daisycutter. The Girlfriend and I took the latter on a picnic and found it to be very convenient. We’ve also been drinking more cheap beer (Miller High Life) in cans, so our judgment level probably remains suspect. I would never turn down a beer just because it was in a can, though.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 18, 2010

  2. I personally love the sensation of drinking directly from a can, and I strongly dislike the sensation of drinking from a bottle.

    Comment by Hill | August 18, 2010

  3. Sun King Brewery in Indianapolis recently started putting a couple of their brews in cans. I can’t really tell the difference between the growler I buy and drink in a weekend, or the 4 pack I buy and am able to save for a while. I think craft beer in cans is pretty tasty.

    Comment by Richard McElroy | August 18, 2010

  4. Adam, you’re thinking of Half Acre, located a mere 2 miles from where you live– an excellent picnic choice. And Hill, I too love drinking from a can, even though I know I’m “supposed” to pour into a glass, but it’s so much more refreshing directly consumed (craft brewed or otherwise).

    Comment by ebolden | August 18, 2010

  5. Come to think of it, I disprefer the sensation of drinking out of a can, and when I consider that I can pour out my beer to a glass my preference for bottled over canned diminishes. But doesn’t disappear entirely — I still associate cans with mass-produced American pale lagers, which I don’t much like. Then again, I’m not an educated beer consumer by any means.

    Comment by jms | August 19, 2010

  6. How do you know where I live?!@?@

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | August 19, 2010

  7. Only so that I could determine how many Molotov cocktails would be required. Tell Max I’m sorry.

    Comment by ebolden | August 19, 2010

  8. “Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!” On a related note, a friend of mine is attending the Ebenezer’s Pub Belgian Beer Dinner tonight. I hope to hear from him about it, but it’s possible he may ascend directly into heaven after the dessert.

    Comment by Hill | August 19, 2010

  9. When I first got into beer, I looked down upon cans. Now, I pretty much prefer them, and I concur about drinking directly from cans.

    When I get some money, one of my first purchases will be Dale’s Pale Ale.

    Comment by Dave Mesing | August 20, 2010

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