This post originally appeared back in April, but we thought it would be a good idea to re-post since Atlanta just got its first craft brew in a can. What are your thoughts on the bottles vs. cans debate?
As anyone who regularly checks this website knows we are working to start a brewery in Atlanta, GA. One topic that keeps arising in our business projection discussions is whether to package our beer in bottles or cans. We have found that there are various benefits and detriments to both and it raises an interesting conversation piece which we would like to present today.
For hundreds of years, up until the 1930’s, beer drinkers had only 2 choices when it came to indulging in their favorite beverage: draught (draft) beer or bottles. However, the invention of a vinyl liner, combined with existing tin cans, allowed for the canning of pressurized products which finally opened up the possibility of canned beer. The first brewery to fully embrace this technology was Kruger’s Brewery of New Jersey who introduced the first canned beer–Kruger’s Finest Beer–to the market in 1935. This simple act set the new precedent for packaged beer, and sparked a canned versus bottled beer debate which has raged ever since. Now, the emerging craft/microbrew trend is pushing the debate even further.
Generally, this debate centers around a few main topics which are taste, convenience, cost and environmental impact. All are major components in selling beer. First off people want beer that tastes good. And, with beer being a product that is greatly affected by outside elements like temperature, light and oxygen, it can be difficult to combat the deterioration of flavor. Unlike cans, brown bottles are not completely impervious to light and oxygen and the heft and irregular shape of the bottles make them less convenient and more costly to transport. On the flip side, there is a feeling in the beer community that cans often impart a metallic taste to the beer which takes away from the overall flavor. However, there is no genuine empirical evidence to support this, and it is all but debunked by the fact that most cans are now lined with a water-based epoxy which prevents the liquid from ever touching the metal.
The final topics are cost and environmental impact. While the raw material needed to produce aluminum cans, bauxite ore, is readily available, the process needed to refine the ore to a usable metal is extremely intensive and has a large negative impact on the environment. Whereas, the silica needed for bottles is even more abundant and the process required to transform it into glass is much less costly and damaging. Now, while this may be a large con for cans, there is an equally great disparity on the backside of this process. The recycling rate for bottles is 28% vs. cans which is 55%. Also, beer bottles usually contain 10-20% fewer recycled materials than do cans. And the biggest difference between new vs. recycled packaging is that recycled aluminum requires 95% less energy and produces 95% fewer greenhouse emissions than the initial production of the metal. All of this, coupled with the fact that the increase in the overall number of breweries, pushing 2000 as of 2010, has significantly reduced the transit time/distance for many beers and, subsequently, the cost, shows that this is a great time to be a beer drinker.
So, while cans are making a strong case for being the packaging choice of the future, it is doubtful that bottles will ever be fully replaced. Being that we are currently discussing this topic as well, we would like to get your input. Please check out our poll and Facebook and let us know what you think.