In Praise of Beer in Cans

I met with friends in a trendy burger place the other day. It was ticking along pretty nicely. Busy tables. Busy waitresses. People busy enjoying themselves. We were there to take on ballast before heading to the taproom next door to sink a few local beers.

Most of the group were what you might call beer people.  But for one, let’s call him Dan, this was not home turf. In his own words, Dan enjoys a beer from time to time but doesn’t know that much about it. Beer’s just not his thing. Different strokes and all that. So when it was time to choose a beer to go with the burger he was eyeing on the menu, Dan asked me to recommend one. I suggested an amber ale from the brewery next door. When in Rome…

Dan was surprised when his beer arrived in a can. To him cans meant mass market and poor quality, which didn’t sit well with craft beer prices we were paying. I told him what I will share with you know: cans are great, cans are the future, cans are life for beer. And here’s why.

Light and airy: good for hallways, bad for beer

The two biggest enemies for beer are UV light and oxygen. There’s nothing more likely to turn your beer bad before you’ve drunk it than these two.

UV light is bad because it can react with hop-derived compounds in the beer to produce lightstrike (also known as skunking in the USA). This off-flavour makes your beer smell and taste of skunk, wet dog, or weed. This process begins within seconds and is irreversible.

Clear and green glass offer, in turn, zero and rather little protection from UV light. Some brewers who use this glass – the big scale ones – invest in specially engineered hop extracts that are immune to UV light, or encourage drinkers to ‘enjoy’ their beer with a wedge of lime stuffed down the neck of the bottle, which disguises the taste. Most brewers use brown glass, which is pretty good at blocking out UV light. But more and more are turning to cans, which being opaque blocks out 100% of the sun’s hop-mangling rays.

The other big problem is oxidation. This is caused through the prolonged exposure of beer to oxygen, and will most definitely spoil your brewski. The flavour is often compared to wet paper or cardboard, but I find envelope glue to be a more accurate description. Particularly the type of glue that you find on brown envelopes from the tax office. The seal on cans is generally much better than it is on bottles. Cans are air-tight and offer excellent protection against oxidation.

Honestly those two reasons are enough to love cans, and I could stop right there and feel I’ve made my case. But there are further benefits to explore.

Even more reasons to be cheerful

Cans are light weight. Obviously this matters most when you’re shifting beer by the truckload. But still it’s good to avoid lugging heavy glass bottles around where you can.

Cans are more recyclable than glass. This is because cans are made from aluminium, which is the most recyclable material on the planet. (Apparently almost 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today.) A study performed in 2020 showed recycled aluminium cans have the least environmental impact of all commonly used drinks containers; new glass bottles had the most impact.

Cans stack, meaning you can fit more beer into the same space. Very useful for those who lack that spare cellar in which to store their beer.

Cans conduct heat well, which means more efficient chilling, which in turn means your beer reaches its recommended serving temperature quicker and gets into your face sooner. What could be better than that?

But doesn’t canned beer taste tinny?

In a word, no. Modern manufactured cans have a microscopic coating that prevents the beer from coming into contact with the actual metal of the can itself. The days of metallic flavours leeching into the beer from the can are no more. Rejoice and crack open a cold one!

Drinkers have nothing to fear from the coming can revolution

This is packaging progress and should be embraced. The next time someone moans about cans meaning cheap or otherwise subpar beer, you now know enough to set them straight in the shining aluminium path to beery good times ahead.

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