I am not a huge fan of canned craft beer. The traditional argument against metal cans for beer is that the metal reacts with the beer on a molecular level, and imparts a metallic flavor that is perceptible to beer enthusiasts. Glass, on the other hand, is completely neutral, and does not affect the beer’s flavor at all. The counter-argument is that modern aluminum beer cans are protected inside with a plastic-based lining that keeps the beer from ever touching the metal. Well, I personally swear that I can notice a taste difference. I am not sure if it occurs during the bottling/canning process, or the in-bottle or in-can aging process, or upon oxygenation, but to me, canned craft beer has a metallic flavor to it. It is barely perceptible, but it is there. And if you drink straight from the can, then your lips are touching metal, which almost certainly affects the flavor. Moreover, it is entirely possible that the plastic lining imparts an unwanted flavor. Others may disagree.
But what one cannot disagree with, is that the canning of craft beer is becoming more and more popular, with even highly-rated beer from highly-rated breweries arriving in cans. And for those of us who grew up sneaking really bad beer like Pabst and Coors Light in cans from our parents’ refrigerators, this is hard to accept. After all, for decades, no good beer came in a can. But how can you argue with the fact that the USA’s, if not the world’s, generally best-rated craft beer, The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, comes in a can? Alright, now you have my attention.
The truth is that, from 2012 to 2014, the number of good craft beers that now come in a can, has doubled. In fact, more than 500 craft breweries now can at least some of their beer. Canning enthusiasts (is that really a thing now?) cite some advantages that cans have over bottles. First, the beer in a can cools faster. Second, the can protects the beer from sunlight, which molecularly degrades the beer (although dark glass serves the same purpose). Third, beer cans take up less space and fit together in a cooler with less wasted space among them. To me, these three advantages are moot points when it comes to the quality of a beer. In other words, you first must convince me that canned beer tastes just the same, or better, than glass-bottled beer, and then these advantages will matter.
In the big picture, only 3% of craft beer is canned rather than bottled. Still, with the number of canned craft brews doubling in only two years, it seems like this trend may continue in the future. Will there be a day when all craft beer is canned as the industry standard? I certainly hope not, but that is just one man’s opinion. We will have to wait and see.