Is Beer Better in Bottles or Cans?

Can you guess the answer?

Sprecher Special Amber Can Design
Sprecher Beers–like the flagship Special Amber pictured–will come in cans starting January 2022.

Sprecher has been slinging beer in iconic brown glass bottles since 1985. In January of 2022, all of that will change, and Sprecher brews will find a new home in sleek aluminum cans. This has many longtime fans asking, why? Is beer better in cans or bottles? To answer the question, it’s worth thinking about taste, convenience, and environmental impact.

Taste

When it comes to beer, taste is the number one concern at Sprecher. So does beer taste better from cans or bottles? The answer is, neither. Beer tastes better when poured into a glass.

Our perception of flavor relies on a combination of senses–taste, smell, mouthfeel, sight, and possibly even sound (consider the satisfying sound of a can opening). When you drink from a can or a bottle, your nose misses the beer completely, and you cannot see the color of the beer, admire the foamy head, or listen to the sound of rising bubbles during a good pour. Put a beer in a proper glass, and you are getting the full sensory experience. Plus, who doesn’t love drinking beer from a hefty stein or a classy snifter? It just elevates the experience.

Still, you’re not always going to have a glass handy. So how do bottles and cans compare on taste? Some complain that canned beer tastes metallic. However, brewers started lining their beer cans with food-safe plastic to prevent metallic off-taste in the 1930s, and they haven’t stopped since. If you are tasting metal, it’s because you’re smelling the can. So stop doing that, it’s weird! [1]

Bottles have a different taste problem. Unlike cans, bottles let a little light in. When UV light from the sun hits beer, it can cause chemical changes that result in an unpleasant taste. The term for the resulting product is–I kid you not–skunky beer (or ‘lightstruck beer’ if you’re a nerd). Brown bottles provide pretty good protection, followed by green bottles, with clear bottles obviously being the worst of all (sorry, Zima). Brown bottles are all well and good, but no glass provides better protection from skunkiness than a can. [2]

The verdict on taste: as long as you are not a can-sniffer, cans win out on taste. However, you should really be pouring your beer into a glass. Beers poured from a bottle or a can into a glass taste equally good, as long as they haven’t been skunked. Around here, we believe a Sprecher pint glass provides the best taste experience of all. But there’s more to the equation than taste.

A 12oz bottle of Oktoberfest on the bar next to a 1-Liter Sprecher branded mug filled with Oktoberfest.
Beer tastes better in a glass–especially if it’s a fun glass like the 1L dimple mug pictured here!

Convenience

What about convenience? Sometimes beer sits around in your fridge, but beer is happiest when it travels places. It likes to go to parties, campouts, fishing trips, or wherever else you are going with friends. When you’re on the road with your brews, are bottles or cans better?

In this department, bottles have some major issues. They are heavy. They break, and nobody likes to open their trunk to find glass and beer all over the back of the car. This also makes them a no-go on most beaches and campgrounds. Finally, glass bottles can be harder to open in a pinch. Either you need a bottle opener, or you’re dealing with a twist-off. Twist-offs rate higher on convenience than regular bottle caps, but they can still come loose unexpectedly or get stuck.

Cans avoid all of these issues. Aluminum cans are lighter and much harder to damage. If you do manage to break an aluminum can, it’s probably your fault–and it won’t shatter everywhere. You can also open an aluminum can with ease, but it is unlikely to open on its own when jostled around.

The verdict on convenience: cans are lighter, less fragile, and easier to open compared to glass bottles.

Environmental Impact

The founder of Sprecher Brewery, Randy Sprecher, briefly went to school to oceanography before pursing his passion for brewing. During that time, he became aware of the harm that plastic does to the oceans, and committed to bottle all of his soda and beer in glass. Glass is easier to recycle than plastic, and has a lot to recommend it, but it’s not clear if selling beer in bottles or cans is more environmentally friendly.

Compared to glass, aluminum is more environmentally costly to mine, refine, and make into cans. However, aluminum is more likely to be recycled successfully, and its longer life cycle works towards balancing out the low initial costs of making new glass. Additionally, glass is heavier and requires more fuel to transport the same amount of liquid compared to aluminum.

The best thing to do is recycle your cans and bottles whenever possible. Encourage your local bars and restaurants to provide recycling options if they don’t already, and recycle at home if your local government offers recycling services.

The most environmentally friendly way of all to enjoy a beer is to drink draft from a reusable cup, or to bring draft beer home in a reusable growler. Kegs can be filled again and again–although emptying them is the fun part! [3]

The verdict on environmental impact: bottles and cans can both be environmentally friendly, but only if you recycle them! Better yet, drink draft beer from a reusable container.

Filling a reusable growler with draft beer is super environmentally friendly!

The Bottom Line

All in all, cans have many advantages over bottles when it comes to packaging beer. Cans preserve taste better than bottles, they are more convenient, and they are easy to recycle over and over. That’s why Sprecher is making the change from brown glass bottles to aluminum cans. Whatever container your beer comes in, I recommend pouring it out into an ice-cold frosted glass, and enjoying it! Cheers!

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Jared Corbett, Sprecher Digital Marketer and Tour Guide

Jared Corbett

Digital Marketer & Tour Guide

Sources

[1] Eddings, Bryce. “History of Beer Cans: How Did Beer End Up in a Can?” The Spruce Eats, July 22, 2021, https://www.thespruceeats.com/beer-can-history-353265.

[2] Vinepair Staff. “What is Skunked Beer?” Vinepair, https://vinepair.com/beer-101/what-is-skunked-beer/.

[3] New Belgium Brewing. “Cans vs. Bottles.” New Belgium Brewing, https://www.newbelgium.com/siteassets/mission/climate-details/climate_link_cans-vs.-bottles.pdf.