The recent surge of canned craft beers has many wondering why more brewers than ever are choosing to go away from bottles. Why would a brewery choose one over the other — and do consumers have a preference? I decided to ask!
Myrtle Beach’s New South Brewing has always canned their Nut Brown and White Ales, both wildly popular all across the state. I dropped in to chat with Jilly Garner, head brewer of New South, to see what his thoughts were on canning.
“I prefer cans over bottles. They let in no light and I think they probably allow less oxygen exposure. I think beers stay more hoppy in a can as well. I think light is the key because even brown glass is going to let some light in whether you're aging it or it’s sitting on a grocery store shelf. Even a little bit of light can change the flavor and skunk a beer.”
From a brewer’s standpoint he says that even packing and shipping is easier given that it can be loaded back to a palette and shipped out safely.
According to Ball Corporation, a top producer of cans for beer, cans are light-tight and air-tight meaning that no oxygen can get into a can once it’s sealed. In addition to their protective properties, they also are light weight, easier to ship, and are 100% recyclable.
Aaron Gifford, owner of Atlas Taphouse in downtown Myrtle Beach, also agrees that cans are the way to go. He guesses that 25% of the beer in his cooler are cans. “Canned beer is better. It lasts longer, it’s easy to transport, and you have to consider people wanting to pack along cans instead of bottles due to glass and safety. Canned beer does still have that connotation that you’ll get a metallic taste from drinking from it, but with all the technological advancements in canning, the liner doesn't allow that to happen anymore. Besides, you can easily just pour your beer into a glass and any potential problems get solved.”
I had to stop and have a canned beer at that point, just to see if I could notice any differences in the flavor versus pouring it in a glass. I decided on the Modern IPA from Evil Twin Brewing and noticed only one major difference upon splitting the beer, half into a pint glass and half straight from the can: you get less aroma from a can than you would if you were drinking from a glass that you can stick your whole nose into. While, yes, there were several other more subtle differences, it was still delicious both ways.
Devin Posey, a bartender at Atlas says, “I think it depends on what you're drinking on whether or not you should drink it from a can or not. I prefer lighter beers, ambers and IPA’s in cans and stouts or sours in bottles. I don’t know why really.” He makes a good point to bring to light (or keep in the dark) that some brews, such as wild and farmhouse ales, are best bottle conditioned, and most things with a lot of yeast sediment should be poured with care.
Just down the road at Hurricane Maggies, I asked Chris Pennington, a craft brew enthusiast, about his preferences, and he agrees with the brewery’s choices more that anything. “If a brewery puts a beer in a can, then it’s meant to be enjoyed from a can. If they put it in a bottle, they probably mean for you to pour it into a glass. It was conditioned and designed to available in that specific way for a reason.” Looking at it this way illuminates that there is no right or wrong to the cans versus bottle debate.
On the other side of canned beer boom, I asked South Carolina’s oldest brewery Palmetto Brewing Company, a long time bottle-only brewery, about their venture into offering their first canned beer. Collin Clark, Palmetto’s certified Cicerone had this to say:
“While we will always have a soft spot for Palmetto’s classic 12-ounce bottles, there are times and places where glass simply won’t work. The SC Lowcountry is a community of beach bums, boat fiends, surfing enthusiasts, and golfers, and those glass bottles simply won’t work for many of these activities. A canned option from Palmetto was long overdue, and with life in the Lowcountry always looking forward to summer, we decided a summertime beer was the perfect way to go. Our Lowcountry Pilsner is just that – dry and crisp and only 4.5% ABV, this American Light Lager is clean and refreshing. Go ahead and play all 18 holes, or take an extra six pack with you to the pool and share it with a friend. Pack a few extra cans in the cooler on your fishing charter, or grab a can at the ballpark.
The can versus bottle debate is sure to rage on for quite a while yet, but we truly feel there is a time and a place for both. If the reception of Lowcountry Pilsner is any indication, beer fans throughout South Carolina agree. Cans offer many advantages to brewers, distributors, retailers, and consumers alike.”