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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Better-Tasting Suds In Cans Or Bottles?

Happy 75th, Old Friend Can

Frank Zappa once said, "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."

Americans love their beer. And, on January 24, the popular beer can celebrates its 75th birthday. reported ("A Toast to the Beer Can: Happy 75th Birthday," January 23, 2010) that New Jersey's Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company churned out the world's first beer can on January 24, 1935, stocking select shelves in Richmond, Virginia, as a market test. The marketing experiment took off, and American drinkers haven't looked back since, nowadays choosing cans over bottles for the majority of the 22 gallons of beer they each drink per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Sip of Beer History

Beer has a very noble history of sorts and can trace its beginnings to at least 6,000 years ago to ancient Iraq.
How many important decisions in world history were lubricated by a pint or two? That's impossible to say, but beer has played a role in at least a few milestone events, from the plagues of medieval Europe to the founding of the United States.

For example, the nutritional properties of beer remained important through the medieval period, when plagues made water sources questionable for drinking purposes. Beer was considered a trusted alternative because it had gone through a cooking and boiling process, and it offered some cherished calories to boot.

Though many households during this period did their own brewing, monastic beers were generally far superior and led many townspeople to visit their local monasteries for a mug of beer and a meal. The bed-and-brew houses that monks opened to accommodate pilgrims traveling through are considered the precursor to the modern hospitality industry, historians say.

Also, beer may have been partially responsible for populating the New World a few centuries later. Pilgrims sailing from England to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620 originally intended to land at Virginia, but arrived badly off course in Cape Cod instead. "Realizing their mistake, they debated continuing on to their original destination, but ruled against it due to a general lack of rations and especially beer, according to historical documents. The colony of Plymouth, where pilgrims shared beer produced from barley crops during the first Thanksgiving, was the result."
("A Toast to the Beer Can: Happy 75th Birthday," FOXNews, January 23 2010) Considering the navigation, I wonder if anyone was a little sideways at the old Mayflower helm.

Better Taste -- Cans or Bottles?

The question of the post today is "What tastes better -- canned or bottled beer?" I prefer canned beer myself, so although I might be a little  prejudiced, I think the issue deserves my biased investigation. Feel free to do your own investigation into this intriguing question. Still, I have found some research backing my choice of cans. You can probably find support for bottle preference online as the history used to heavily favor bottle beer over canned.

In an article for Bon Appetit Magazine, ("The Beer Can Revolution,", January 2010) Heather John stated the three biggest enemies of beer are light, oxygen, and heat. Naturally, cans eliminate the first two problems.

John Chilson ("The Argument For Canned Beer," said, "Cans are airtight and oxygen-free. When light consistently hits a bottle of beer, it can turn skunky and ultimately undrinkable. Oxygen can also leach into a bottled beer under the bottle cap and affect the taste, which could potentially destroy the beer." Even brown bottles, which block most of the light that damages beer, (Clear and green bottles are worthless.) allow in some light and cause the "skunky" brew. Oxidation results in beer tasting papery, cardboardy or stale.

Controlling heat is generally up to the consumer. Canned beers and bottled beers can be spoiled by exposure to extreme temperatures.But, cans do provide an extra measure of protection and help preserve the freshness of the beer.The potential storage problems seem settled in favor of the beer can.  

So, the argument over the issue requires a very practical solution to seal an answer - beer drinkers must simply taste both packaged products and let the palate decide.

Heather John stated that the taste comparison will produce a positive result for canned beer. She reported, "The beer from the can tastes rich, toasty, and creamy. By comparison, the same beer in the bottle tastes a little flat, less fresh.Turns out there's a reason why. New Belgium (one of her favorite breweries) adds a slurry of active live yeast to its Fat Tire cans just before sealing to take up oxygen and prevent stale off-flavors. The result is a fresher, more complex beer. Think of it as a mini keg." She repeated the taste test with many, many beers. 

Most premium beer brewers are following the can trend. According to Bon Appetit's resident beer aficionado and design director, Matthew Lenning, "I was completely preconditioned to think that canned beer equaled bad beer (see Meister Bräu). Tasting is believing, however," Lenning admits. "What seemed to me from the outset as just a gimmicky attempt to latch onto the Pabst-in-a-Can trend has actually improved the quality of what we drink."

Garrett Marrero at Maui Brewing Co. added, "Even the large domestic breweries will tell you that cans are a better package for the beer. The myth of the metallic taste goes back to 50 years ago when tin cans were soldered with lead." Now, the aluminum cans feature a water-based polymer lining that eliminates any metallic contamination; therefore, the beer never comes in contact with the aluminum.

"You'd have to bite the can while you were drinking from it," Marrero jokes. "Coors has done the best job of marketing cans with the Frost Brew Liner to seal in freshness. That's the same liner that has been in cans for more than 20 years now, and it does exactly what Coors says it does." (Heather John, "The Beer Can Revolution,", January 2010) Beer companies are finding out the secret to freshness is in the can.


Considering only taste of canned beer -- not the versatility of safer transport, not the quicker chill, not the greater portability, and not the more efficient recycling -- the answer to my question is still "Drink from the can." One caution here -- one must decide this issue based on his own tastes. Any perceptible taste difference can still be a matter of personal interpretations of "crispness" and "flavor." Yet, I find the properly handled canned beer to be more consistently delicious than most, if not all, bottled varieties.

Something New?  Postscript

Evan Blass (, April 20 2006) reported technology is having an effect on cooling beer. Miller is  the first domestic brewer to utilize Tempra's self-cooling cans for dropping a drink's temperature a minimum of 30º F on command. Tempra's I.C. Can 'works by drawing heat out of the beverage with a natural desiccant (drying agent), through a water gel coated evaporator, and into an insulated heat-sink container, once an internal vacuum-seal has been broken. Miller's self-cooled offerings should begin showing up in finer distributors nationwide starting sometime next year (2007), and as you can probably imagine, a sixer of these high-tech brews isn't going to come cheap." This development is new to me.

But, I have yet to see the Tempra on the market. Was it too expensive to market? Let me know.

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