Screwed Up Beer Week (vol 11) - A Kick in the Can or Keep it Bottled Up Inside
Written By: Kevin Patterson on 03/20/2014
A wine-snob turn beer-geek walks into a bar...
"What's up with all these cans? I though craft beer was supposed to be classy. Aren't breweries dumbing down their image to try to appeal to the mass-market crowd?" she asks. Or rather insists.
Somewhat distraught that part of the charm about craft beer was their elegance; bottling many of her favorite Belgian beers is a type of packaging that more resembles that of the wine world. She's seen the trend of cans picking up steam in the American microbrewery end but now that her beloved St. Feuillien Saison and Het Anker Lucifer are now seeing cans, it appears that she's much more concerned about the image of how her beer is marketed rather that the actual taste of the beer inside.
The first cliche that came to mind is that, "Beauty is only skin deep." But I stopped myself when I realized, that's only stuff that ugly people say. Instead, I told her that there's some pluses and minuses when it comes to canning versus bottling and they all need to be weighed before jumping onto or off from either bandwagon.
Brewers increasingly prefer cans because of multifaceted reasons. For instance, cans are lighter to ship than glass so the price should be less. That's especially true when considering that many more cans fit on a palate than do bottles. But not so fast- with relatively few craft beer canning manufacturers available, and the burden of the expanding beer market upon them, the economy of "bulk" has not yet gotten to the point where any savings for the brewer (thus consumer) are realized. So though cans have the potential to become cheaper in the future, they may currently be costing the brewer, and you more.
Despite that, brewers still push forward with cans because of quality control issues as well. Cans may very well be a better delivery system for our beloved tipple, also for a myriad of reasons. Along with its tight bundle and less weight en route to your favorite bar or store, cans offer the superior benefit of protecting beer from light completely- so the threat of your beer skunking during delivery is completely erased!
As the beer is canned, it's technology allows brewers to significantly diminish the amount of head-space, thus oxygen on the beer that may potentially stale the beer prematurely. This ensures a fresher taste for the consumer and for a longer shelf-life. These seemingly small details entice brewers because of any benefit and risk reduction to their reputation after the beer is out of their hands.
The benefits don't stop there. Consumers (most of them anyway) are enamored by cans for their own personal reasons. For the camping and backpacking inclined, cans stack easier and more efficiently in coolers and they chill down much faster because metal is a better conductor of heat (and cold) than that of glass. So you can say that cans are more friendly to those with a quick thirst and little time to waste- I've been there!
And those cans collapse easily and are lighter to tote out of the wilderness. Cans are substantially more recyclable than glass to benefit the environment, even though there are studies to suggest that the initial production of aluminum may be equally or more harmful to the planet than we realize. Regardless, the impact on the environment is a concern to one of craft beer's most loyal demographics- the woodsy types. Now, please let go of the tree; you're embarrassing yourself!
Not real happy with any of those rationales, her rebuttal takes on a tangent, "But I can't stand that metallic taste that I get from the can."
Taken back when I explain to her that the metallic character that she thinks she's tasting simply does not exist, she's now convinced that I'm completely bullshitting her.
But that particular metallic sensation isn't a flavor at all, instead it's a tengimental sensation. This means that it's not a taste; it's a texture. When drinking straight from the can, the metal sends a small electrical current through the body's electrical system and straight to the brain. (It's kinda like the lateral line of a shark, just not nearly as strong.) Confused of how to handle this information, the brain mistakenly processes this feeling as a metal flavor.
So the solution to my little Jeanie-in-a-beer-bottle princess is to "classy" it up sweetheart and to give that coveted ale a proper decanting. Pour it into a glass and avoid all that neurological confusion while also getting so much more out of your purchase. Not to mention she's also avoided all the muck and smears on the lip of that can as well- eeek!
Yet with that conversation on my mind minutes after she left, my thought process continued. Are we going to see our classy bottle shops turn to clunky can vendors anytime soon? Where a few years ago, I would have said yes. But seeing many of my favorite microbreweries dabble in cans, they are not abandoning the bottle just yet. It appears that we don't have to choose, Schlafly, Brooklyn, Anderson Valley, Founders and a host of others are catering to both sides of the debate by putting their new cans right beside of their traditional bottles. -A win-win for all!
Follow the conversation with me on Twitter: @BEERchitect #ScrewedUpBeerWeek to keep things rolling.