All bottled up?

DCP’s guide to bottle versus can

By Jim Witmer

Which do you prefer, beer in a bottle or in a can?

Let’s begin with the fact that more and more craft beer is being canned these days and it has surpassed bottles in market share. It’s likely that your favorite beer that was only available in a bottle is now available in both a bottle and a can. Or now maybe just a can.

I have enjoyed collecting a few cans over the years and have a modest collection of retro cans from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s that … well, bring back memories, shall I say.

Those cans didn’t hold memorable beer, just memories of an era. Maybe an era of cheap beer.

So, yes, canned beer for the longest time epitomized the reputation of cheap industrial lager until Colorado micro brewer Oskar Blues launched into motion the craft canning craze in 2002 and the number of breweries has now grown to well over 500. Locally, we have Dayton Beer Company (DBC), Warped Wing Brewing Company (WWBC) and Yellow Springs Brewing Company (YSB) now offering their beer in colorful cans.

But to dig deeper, there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages for both the brewer and the consumer of both bottles and cans.

The can pros: 

1. Convenience: Portability. Go anywhere. Take it golfing, hiking, camping and won’t break if dropped.

2. Environmentally friendly: Aluminum is lighter than glass so they are transported with less energy. Very recyclable. Cans can be crushed to preserve space.

3. Preserving the beer: No contact with air once it is canned. No light can enter the can to destroy the organic compounds (or skunkify) the beer. It’s like a mini keg.

4. Aesthetics: The entire can is a canvas for the brewery’s artwork.

The can cons:

1. When the brewer fills the can with beer, evacuating oxygen with a vacuum is impossible before the lid goes on, so that could leave enough oxygen content in the can to make the beer unstable on the shelf for a long period of time. Some brewers are adamant about this point. Others, not so much.

2. New aluminum is made from bauxite, and most of it comes from strip mines.

3. Drinking out of a can may not be as preferable to drinking out of a bottle. Best when poured into a glass.

4. Beer cans (most commercially available food cans as well) are lined with epoxy that contains bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that keeps foods from reacting to aluminum.

The bottle pros: 

1. Aesthetics: Bottle shapes can look more elegant, the caged corks appear more sophisticated.

2. Convenience: Glass is thicker so it stays cold longer than plastic.

3. Environmentally: made from all-natural, sustainable raw materials, glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be reused endlessly.

4. Bottle conditioning: very common with bottles, nearly impossible with cans.

The bottle cons: 

1. Over time, oxygen can seep in through the bottle cap even if it has been sealed with wax.

2. Glass can be light struck, especially if the bottles aren’t amber-colored.

3. Drop a glass bottle, and you have a mess, and shards of glass.

4. The ultimate eco-friendly alternative to recycling beer bottles is to charge a deposit for returnable, refillable, bottle system.

Perhaps cans are the better alternative, but the BPA liner issue with cans might be the most critical. But is it something to worry about? Tests have shown it to cause hormonal damage at low levels, and there has been a growing concern about what levels are safe. If you trust your FDA, then don’t worry and enjoy your beer. The FDA has acknowledged that BPA does leach from the lining in the beer, but not in an amount to be a known health risk. However, the French government disagrees, and has banned BPA lining of cans.

I reached out to each local brewery that does canning, and heard back from John Haggerty from WWBC via email.

“Yes, all cans have a small amount of BPA in them—whether it is your beer or your soup or your beans or your whatever,” says Haggerty. “So, there isn’t getting around any of that at this time.  We are monitoring what sort of options are out there and would prefer to have a non-BPA liner if there was one available. However, at this point there has not been a viable alternative presented for cans.”

Dayton’s historical connection to cans is significant. Ermal Fraze invented the pull-top tab that was often discarded as litter but greatly improved the concept with the first push-in and fold-back tab, the principal design that is still used today.

“We chose cans because we liked the decorating options for cans and because we felt like Dayton would respond to cans given its history with the invention of the safety pull tab,” Haggerty says.

Personally I would hate to see bottled beer disappear. There can always be a debate on how safe and effective cans or bottles are, but if they are properly filled and seamed, cans do seem to offer in many ways a superior package, all things considered.

As canning technology improves, and if the availability to small breweries doesn’t become an issue, the stigma of “cheap canned beer” is all but gone. It’s very likely the future will see even more beer in cans and less and less in bottles.

Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at

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Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at

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