Can vs. Bottle: Which has the best case?

Written by
Nick Oscilowski
February 16, 2017
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We take a look at the pros and cons of canned beer and bottled beer to find out more.

A couple of years ago, bottle shop shelves in Australia began to be invaded by cans. And the trend that started slowly at first, has now taken a steep upward curve. It’s certainly true that multinational brewers have long offered beer in canned form, but it’s been the reemergence of small breweries that has really pushed things to a new level. Now, slabs of industrial lager are no longer the only option and you can satisfy your tastes with anything from an elegant Saison to intensely hopped double IPA.

So what’s behind the sudden appeal of canned beer? The technology isn’t exactly new, yet bottles have remained brewers’ preference for decades. It could simply be due a point of difference: everyone expects bottles so cans stand out on the shelf. But beyond that there are sound reasons for choosing cans over bottles, quality being among them. As more people take interest in beer, they’re demanding a better product and the fact is glass bottles are susceptible to lightstrike, essentially a process whereby light changes the compounds in the beer and can give it an unpleasant flavour (as a general rule, brown glass is best and clear is the worst). Cans, being impervious to light, don’t suffer from such a problem. There’s also a case that says there’s less oxygen exposure in cans, although a direct comparison would need to take into account the quality of the bottling or canning line.

Freight is a practical but important consideration. A case of cans is lighter and takes up less room than the equivalent volume in bottles meaning a brewer can fit a lot more beer on a pallet or a truck, which in turn is more efficient to transport. For the drinker slinging a four pack down to the beach or loading up an esky, they’re lighter to manage too – not to mention their ability to withstand being dropped. They also chill faster, which is always handy.

While bottles aren’t likely to completely disappear from shelves any time soon, cans do seem to offer advantages by way of quality and convenience. And with more small breweries ordering canning lines, you’re certain to see more of them. Here is a handful to look out for to get a taste of where things are heading…

Australian Brewery Pale Ale

With the increasing number of canned beers produced by independent Australian breweries, it’s interesting to think that as recently as the beginning of 2012 there weren’t any. It was only at the end of that year that The Australian Brewery, based in the western Sydney suburb of Rouse Hill, became the first when it opted to install a canning machine over a traditional bottling line. One of the first two permanent beers to roll off the line was this unfiltered Pacific-style pale ale full of the fruity aromas and flavours of Galaxy hops.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

If you’re looking for a sign of faith that cans are at least equal to bottles, knowing that one of the most respected North American breweries cans their most iconic beer should be sufficient. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a benchmark beer in the beer world. Its bold pine and grapefruit hop character sets the course for thousands of imitators. If you want to have a go at tasting whether there’s a difference between bottles and cans, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is available in both forms.

Young Henrys Real Ale

With such a strong tradition for being produced in casks, you could be forgiven for thinking that putting a British-style Best Bitter in cans is a bit of an odd choice, especially in the Australian market. But Newtown’s Young Henrys is ever willing to shirk convention. The Real Ale has slightly sweet toffee and caramel flavours and is the antithesis to the hoppy and fruity pale ales preferred by many breweries. Once you pull this beer from the fridge, let it sit for a few minutes to warm up so the malt flavours open up.

4 Pines Indian Summer Ale

The Indian Summer Pale Ale is the sixth beer to be added to 4 Pines’ core range, the first to come in a can and the first you should reach for in the heights of summer. A very clean, crisp and quenching beer, the Indian Summer is stronger than a mid-strength, but not by much. Its use of Equinox and Galaxy hops gives it a more fruity flavour and aroma than mainstream beers of a similar size. Coming from a brewery that has its roots on Sydney’s northern beaches, the convenient canned format means this neatly fits a definition of ‘beach beer’.

Evil Twin Hipster Ale

In certain sections of society craft beer is viewed as a form of self-identification for hirsute and tattoo-sleeved hipsters. For those who want to reinforce that stereotype, particularly with a good dose of self-deprecation, look no further than the Hipster Ale from Evil Twin. This American pale ale comes from the mind of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, a Danish ‘gypsy’ brewer who doesn’t own his own brewery but instead travels the world making his beer in other people’s breweries and releasing them beneath slick artwork under the Evil Twin name.

As the bottle versus can debate plays out, there’s one vessel that remains the best to drink beer from – a glass. Any time you drink straight from a bottle or can you’re immediately reducing your sensory experience; it’s like eating a meal with a peg over your nose preventing you from taking in all the aromas and flavours. So no matter how you buy your beer, wherever possible pour it into a glass to get the most enjoyment. After all, you wouldn’t drink wine straight from a bottle.