The Great Debate: Beer Bottles vs. Cans

Jul 10, 2017

Category: Vices

You probably don’t need us to tell you that beer is the most ubiquitous alcoholic beverage around the globe. And that’s with good reason – it’s versatile, expansive, and can be both delicious and refreshing all year round. And with the explosion in popularity of craft beer over the last decade, there’s a burgeoning and dedicated fandom surrounding the beverage and all its iterations. There are, however, a few polarizing debates under the surface of that greater community.

While there’s plenty to be said for the differences between lager and ale, at the end of the day that choice all comes down to personal opinion. There is, however, another discussion with very real data to be had on both sides of the argument. We’re talking, of course, about cans versus bottles in regards to beer storage vessels. While, ideally, having beer straight from a keg or out of a freshly filled growler is best, not all situations allow for it. You can almost always bring a few bottles or cans with you wherever you go, however. The question is, how do you choose. Well, we’ve put together the following debate to help you better understand which is best for beer between bottles and cans.

The Brilliance of Bottles

So the story goes that bottling beer began nearly 500 years ago by accident. Apparently, a rector at the Church of England, named Dr. Alexander Nowell, put some beer into a bottle for later consumption and, after bringing it along on a short fishing trip, he accidentally left the still-full bottle on the bank. When he returned for it a few days later, he found that the beer inside had gone through a second fermentation and developed CO2 carbonation.

That happy accident changed the course of beer forever. For the first time ever people could access it in smaller and more portable formats and they could enjoy it with a bubbly bite – rather than the more traditional flatness of abbey style beers. And that’s probably the biggest benefit of bottles: in-container fermentation. Now, keep in mind that the beer styles that actually necessitate a second bottle fermentation are relatively few and far between in the greater scheme of things, but it still has the ability to massively benefit those that do. Chances are, if you’re a big fan of beefy Belgians, flanders sours, or unfiltered yeasty brews, you’re probably going to be fond of bottles strictly for the fact that cans don’t offer in-container fermentation.

There are, however some big drawbacks to bottles as beer vessels. Though they are undoubtedly the eldest of the two options, they’re not exactly the best at everything. For instance, bottles are far more fragile than cans when in transport. Drop a can and you can still drink the contents. Drop a bottle and it might shatter, spilling beer everywhere. There is also the question of protection of the beverage inside. You see, UV rays (AKA sunlight) are one of the biggest enemies to beer, as they can skunk it. Bottles – because they are not completely opaque – allow some of those rays to enter. Of the three most common bottle varieties, clear bottles offer the least protection, green ones offer some, and brown bottles protect the most (up to 99%). Still, it’s not 100%.

Lastly, there’s the question of environmental friendliness. As you are probably aware, both bottles and cans can be recycled. Bottles, however, have a limitation to the number of times they can be recycled. That means, there’s a certain point at which glass is no longer recyclable. They’re also much heavier and harder to transport and, therefore, are more costly in the process. Still, all things considered, the feel of a bottle in your hand as you drink a delicious beer from its neck is pretty damn satisfying.

Cans Are King

When compared to bottling, canned beer (and canned alcohol in general) is still in its relative infancy. A part of that is because it depends on technology that was created during the industrial revolution and, more specifically, in 1888 when the large-scale production of metallic aluminum was developed. It’s also just not as widely available. We’re left to assume that this is because glass is, initially, cheaper and easier to get and use than aluminum. That downside, however, is offset when you consider that aluminum is infinitely recyclable. Yes, no matter how many times you melt it down and reform it, aluminum holds up wonderfully.

Aluminum cans have a few other very big benefits that can’t be found with glass bottles. For instance, aluminum is a lot more durable than glass. Cans don’t shatter when dropped. You might argue that bottles are more puncture-resistant, but it seems far more likely that a drinking vessel will be dropped than stabbed. Unless, of course, you’re fond of shotgunning beers – in which case, aluminum’s weakness to puncturing is a boon and not a drawback.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to cans over bottles, however, is how well they protect the contents inside. Cans, you see, allow absolutely no UV light to get into the beer. That means, so long as beer is in a can, it will never get skunked by light. Cans also offer a tighter seal than bottles. The metal on metal is just inherently more secure than a bottle cap on a bottle. It’s likely that this doesn’t matter, as bottled beer won’t typically go flat or be exposed to enough air to ruin it until long after it has expired (or if the seal is bad), but it still needs to be said.

The Gold Standard

Let it first be said that, by all accounts, glass bottles are not terrible vessels for beer. For starters, they are the OG brew container. But they also offer up an arguably better feeling in your hand; they’re fragile, but only if you’re quite careless; and, so long as you don’t keep your bottles out in the open in your backyard, the issue with UV light is of very little consequence.

That being said, cans win out over bottles in nearly every single category. For starters, they offer better protection against all three of beer’s greatest enemies – UV light, oxygen, and heat. They’re also more environmentally friendly because, even though bottles can be recycled, aluminum has no limit to how many times it can be recycled and reused. And, lastly, bottles are a lot more fragile than cans. By just about every measure that really matters, cans are the superior vessel for beer. Still, that’s not going to stop us from opting for bottles every now and again.

Best Gifts For The Beer Lover

No matter what side of the debate you find yourself upon, we can all agree that this list contains 20 of the best gifts for beer lovers.

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