Nick Carr on August 12, 2015 9 Comments You’ve probably noticed a changing tide on your local beer shelves. Cans. Lots of them. The recent trend got its start in 2002 when Oskar Blues hand-canned Dale’s Pale Ale. The trend was slow to take off though, chugging along, adding another brewery every now and then, but it’s only really been in the last 10 years that it’s run away. With the canning come the debates. Is canning better then bottling? Is it more sustainable? Is it safe? Is the beer any good? This article won’t answer any of these questions, at least not outright. I am not arguing one way or the other, because I’m on the fence too, when it comes to these questions… except “Is the beer good”. The beer is good. Let’s just clear that up right now. All I wanted to do was present some facts. The importance of these facts to you will ultimately drive your decision. The Pros of Beer Cans Below we have listed out eight advantages that beer cans have over glass bottles. 1. Cans Blocks Light: A photochemical reaction takes place when sunlight, or for that matter florescent lighting strikes, beer. The light breaks down hop alpha acids which then react with sulfur compounds in the beer causing a skunky aroma and taste. Though brown bottles block some of the light, over time the beer is still affected (note: green and clear glass block almost none of the damage causing light). Not so with cans. Cans block 100% of light, helping prevent skunked beer and giving you the beer the brewer intended for you to taste. 2. Cans are Light: A can weighs in around 15 grams versus a bottles 170 grams. Lower weight means lower emissions (smaller carbon footprint) from transportation and distribution of a brewer’s product. Ease of transport including weight is also a consideration for the consumer. If you’re planning to picnic a couple miles up a trail a lighter load can make a huge difference. 3. Blocks Oxygen: Like light, oxygen is not good for beer. It basically causes beer to age and can cause unpalatable flavors to appear over time. Even the most carefully bottled beer will let small amounts of oxygen in over time. Cans will not. 4. Storage: Cans are easy to store. They are stackable. The distributor can fit more in his truck and you can fit more in your fridge or cooler. 5. Colder: Because aluminum conducts heat well, a canned beer will cool quickly. But, remember a canned beer won’t stay cool as long as bottled beer for the same reason. Quick Tip: No matter if you prefer a can or bottle, putting your beer in an cold water bath will cool it faster than the freezer or a beverage fridge. 6. Public Places and Outdoors: Many public places, such as beaches, parks, camping sites, do not allow glass bottles, because of the inherent dangers of broken glass. But, the same public places usually have no problem with cans. In a word, cans are more outdoor friendly. Being unbreakable, along with their weight and ease of storage (talked about earlier) makes them a good choice for an outdoor rump. 7. Less Packing Material: A six pack of cans requires less packaging material than a six pack of bottles. Think of the difference between the new plastic PakTech six pack holder and the cardboard of a bottled six pack. Also there is less energy and resources in the labeling of cans (right on the can) vs. the paper and printing of bottle labels and packaging. 8. Recyclability: Aluminum is the most recyclable of any material. It takes about 90% less energy to recycle aluminum then to create aluminum from raw materials. This amounts to a whopping 20 recycled cans to 1 virgin can in energy expenditure. There is no limit on how many times aluminum can be recycled and a can, recycled, can be back on shelves in as little as two months. Note: Next time you toss that aluminum can into the garbage realize that you are wasting as much energy as if you poured out half that cans worth of gasoline! The Cons of Beer Cans While there are plenty of advantages, let’s now take a look at three disadvantages that come with beer cans. 1. The Stigma of Cans: There is a “bad quality beer” stigma attached to the can. Most of us think of cheap beer in large quantities when cans are mentioned. There is also the common experience of finding cans littered where they shouldn’t be. And let’s face it beer cans just don’t feel as sophisticated as a bottle. We certainly can’t get the same presentation out of a pair of beer cans as we can get out of an elegant wire corked Belgian Trippel and a nice pair of IPA glasses. Unfortunately, this stigma is all in our heads. Sure, there are plenty of cheap beer available in cans. But, there is also good canned beer available… a lot of it. It may be harder to find, but when you do, it’s worth the hunt. 2. BPA: BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a carbon-based synthetic used in plastics and epoxies. It can act like a synthetic hormone calling into question its safety when used in many products, especially products related to food. It is used in the liner of beer cans, as well as many other plastic products, so there is some concern here. However, an FDA study done in 2014 (PDF) states that “an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses.” Make of this what you will. 3. Aluminum Mining: Aluminum, in its raw state, is the third most abundant resource on the plant. Unfortunately getting this raw material is in no way energy-efficient or earth-friendly. Aluminum comes from bauxite, a red mineral dense rock that is extracted by open pit mining. This strip mining removes all vegetation and adversely affects ground water and wildlife. The process of transforming this virgin rock into aluminum is astronomically energy intensive, using massive amounts of water and electricity (whole power plants are built to support the process). The smelting process is incredibly polluting (much of the smelting energy comes from coal). Thoughts & Takeaways The “can vs bottle” debate will continue, I have no doubt about this. And, again, I’m not trying to persuade one way or the other, just putting the information out there. Hopefully you are more informed and curious to look into the issues a little deeper, and prepared for your next beer run. A couple things I would like you to take away though: If you’re gonna drink from cans drink good beer. Always recycle your cans!! Drink Local. Use refillable growlers or kegs when you can. Cheers!