Hop-Ed: Debunking Canned Craft Beer

An assortment of canned craft beers. Photo by Al E. (Flickr)
Written by Alex Wilking

By Alex Wilking
BU News Service

I’m from St. Louis — the headquarters of brewing hyper-giant Anheuser-Busch — so most of my early drinking days involved downing cans of swill like Budweiser and Bud Light. When I finally developed tastebuds, bottled beer represented a new frontier of purity and elegance. And for the most part, the rest of the world felt the same way. Bottles were, after all, the original benchmark for fancier beer.

So something had to give when St. Louis craft breweries ditched the bottle formula and transitioned over to cans. I was up in arms, ranting that this wasn’t what “craft” was about. American culture has long associated canned beer as cheap, flavorless and mass-produced. Now craft breweries are welcoming aluminum cans with open arms in hopes of breaking that stigma, and I realized that this shift is a win-win for everyone involved.

For a beer to spoil, it needs to be exposed to oxygen, light and/or heat, which aluminum counters in every way. Aluminum cools faster than glass, thus nullifying heat faster (though it does warm up faster too). It also keeps light out more effectively than glass, which keeps the beer fresher for longer. It’s even cheaper for a brewery to distribute their product in cans, cutting unnecessary costs and saving you fridge space.

To be frank, the list goes on — more design space means more artistic freedom. Cans are more portable than bottles. There’s even a sustainability argument that cans are more recyclable than glass, though this is still up in the air. Bottles often hold more volume, but there’s practically no comparison. Yet the average drinker can’t be convinced that all of this stuff is actually true.

Night Shift Brewing's "Awake," an American Porter brewed out of Everett, Massachusetts. Photo by Alex Wilking.

Night Shift Brewing’s “Awake,” an American Porter brewed out of Everett, Massachusetts. Photo by Alex Wilking.

But our negative perception toward cans isn’t unfounded. For years, aluminum cans did give drinks a metallic tinge of flavor. In order to combat this, the US started coating cans with a polymer called Bisphenol A (BPA) in 1957, which keeps the beer inside from touching the can. BPA is a thin plastic lining that can also be found in products like soda cans and water bottles. The FDA declared that this synthetic substance isn’t dangerous to humans, but many brewers still dismiss BPA as compromising to their beer. Until scientists find an alternative, we’re stuck in this predicament.

Debate is still rampant among brewers, but as many have pointed out, the decision is ultimately with the drinker. But it seems the drinker is finally warming up to the idea.

Sales of craft beer cans are way up. Many craft breweries now distribute primarily in cans, with Colorado’s Oskar Blues even switching over completely to canned products. NPR reported that canned craft beer in America has doubled in production since 2012, with over 2,000 brands following the practice. Now, nearly 13 percent of craft breweries in the US can at least one of their beers.

It’s not like glass is going anywhere — most breweries have taken to canning some beers and bottling others — yet if a simple change in receptacle yields so many additional benefits, we should be embracing said switch. Many still scrutinize BPA, but until a reputable source raises a red flag, it’s safe to assume the alcohol in the beer is worse for you. Let brewers run bottle-only operations if they wish, but as consumers, we have the power to make canned craft beer a successful beer outlet.

We’re close to ending the perception that canned beer has to be shotgunned on your front porch. We’re close to realizing that bottles and cans can contain the same quality beer. And if you’re really going to complain that much about beer in a can, you could always just pour it into a glass.

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