Can Vs. Bottles

In a start up brewery, the most economical package to distribute is a keg. Since I don’t know anyone other than my husband who has a keg fridge, we will have to start canning or bottling at some point to reach your fridge.  We are hotly debating cans vs. bottles for our small packages.  In fact, the craft beer industry as a whole is debating this issue.  So here are the pluses and minuses both ways….

Cans:  Pros-easier to recycle, less packing space, more portable for recreational activities, better for the beer (no light, less air gets to beer), chills faster  Cons-the stigma associated with can beer being cheap beer, you have to buy a lot of cans with the same label, some say there is a metallic taste (cans are coated on the inside with plastic so this shouldn’t be the case)

Bottles: Pros- nice looking, easier to change labels, traditional craft brew packaging  Cons- larger package size needs more storage space, light can penetrate the  bottles, have to buy bottles and labels separately, separate machines to bottle, then label

Do you have thoughts?  Would you buy craft beer in a can?


Add yours
  1. 1
    Michael Bergman

    I think the stigma associated with canned craft beer is slowly going away. One of the most talked-about craft brewers around right now – Surly Brewing of Brooklyn Center, MN – only sells in cans.

    While I agree that there are definitely pros and cons with can and bottles, I hope you don’t let the stigma-factor weigh too heavily in the decision making process.

    My advice would be to talk with other craft brewers. Talk to brewers who can (Surly, Keweenaw Brewing in Houghton, MI for example) and talk to brewers who bottle. I’m sure there are folk out there who would be more than happy to share their thoughts on it.

    Michael Bergman – MidwestMicroBrews

  2. 2

    I am all for plastic-lined cans! I’ve seen several TV shows on beer in the past year that mention this fact (that they are plastic lined), as well as the fact that most consumers do not know it. Just have to work in some consumer education into your marketing/packaging. It’s better for the beer, and better for the earth! Who can argue that? 🙂

  3. 3
    Michael Suhr

    I agree that the “stigma” of the canned craft brew is definitely going away.

    There is a great video out there of the canning process at Oskar Blues
    for those interested…

    I feel you’ll catch some of the “enviro” conscious folks by canning alone. It can be packed in and out for camping, etc.

    As far as drinkability… if you’re not pouring it into a proper glass, you are not enjoying the beer to its fullest anyway, so why not package it in the most environmentally friendly container.

    I am assuming that you can not get a secondary fermentation in a can, like you could in a bottle for certain types of beers… but that is my limited knowledge of the total brewing process. If anyone knows the answer to this, I would be interested in knowing.

    As long as I get the proper glass to drink it out of, you could package it in a shoe and it would make no difference to me 🙂

    Michael Suhr

    • 4

      Thanks for all the comments. BPA is definitely an issue that we need to weigh. There is some info on the Can Manufacturers Institute website. Also, Ball is the major supplier of cans and they have this info on their site regarding the benefits of cans. Both are biased for the use of cans I realize but it gets you started. From what I have read the real issue with BPA is in baby bottles that are heated and obviously used for infants who are more susceptible to chemical contamination.

      I would say comments to our blog and to facebook and twitter are about even cans to bottles so the battle continues!

      Thanks every one for the great comments and keep them coming! We love to hear your input on our operations!!

  4. 6
    Jim Ziller

    I guess my thought is this is as much a marketing question as it is economics, recycling, etc. You are right in that cans come off looking and even feeling cheap. I know with some of the higher percentage brews I have tried, you would not see them in a can at all. Do you want to market to people who are going to have beer koozies out on their fishing boat with a 24 pack of your beer because they can buy 24 can’s of great tasting beer cheap. Or are you marketing to someone who drinks great beers because they like trying all kinds of new beers and yours is one of their favorites so they pick up a six pack of bottles.

    I guess you don’t see a six pack of cans too often anymore. You see people buying cans buy the dozens and you see them bottles by six or 12 usually.

    Just my 2 cents… Go with bottles. They might take up more space, but I think you can price it a little more to make up for that.

    Recycling is not a issue. In Iowa, you have the deposit either way and people return them. Unlike here in NE where there is no deposit so you just recycle the brown glass.

    Taste is not an issue really since they will likely taste pretty similar (assuming they are not sitting in the sunlight)

    Just a thought. I know that drinking water in plastic leaches chemicals into the water. So lining an aluminum can to keep the aluminum from getting taste into the beer with another that puts petroleum products into the beer can’t be a whole lot better. Glass doesn’t leach anything in other than sunlight.

  5. 8

    Re: Jim Ziller’s comments about plastic leaching chemicals (and ruining taste?)…

    Is there any brewery out there that has kegs, bottles, AND cans? Couldn’t a simple comparative taste test at least bring us some anecdotal evidence about whether there is any noticeable difference?

    Maybe there is already something out there on the web?

  6. 9

    I think one reason so many small brewers stick with bottles is that with so many expansions and failures in the brewing world, small-run bottling lines have been available used for a long time. There are canning lines geared toward the small brewer now; I believe they are priced starting at $15,000. So your first consideration will be your initial start-up costs to get a packaging line.
    The “liner” in cans is a food-grade acrylic used in almost every canned food sold in the US. Much different than the soft plastic in water bottles (and now Miller Lite is doing the legwork for you by trumpeting its ‘protective can lining’). The crowns in bottles come with their own plastic liner as an oxygen barrier.
    SKA brewing uses both cans and bottles for its product, so you have a chance for a comparison there. With so many craft brewers using cans exclusively, I don’t think you will be facing that stigma. I have had a can of Surly Bitter Brewer in my cellar with some malt forcing itself out from under the lid, so admittedly cans from small brewers are not 100% foolproof either.

    I’ll pass your help wanted ad to some brew clubs in the Chicago area.

    Mark McDermott
    Chicago Craft Beer Examiner

  7. 10
    Jim Ziller

    I admit I don’t know anything about plastics. I know water in plastic doesn’t taste funny, but I do know that the longer it sits in plastic, the more man-made chemicals have been shown to get into the drinking water.

    I don’t think you would taste it in the beer (or other products) and likely that is what most companies are testing for. They don’t want their product to taste funny or nobody will buy it. But if taste is not an issue and it is economical, how many companies are going to stop putting their product in plastic just because of a few tasteless chemicals getting into it. Likely not to many as they are looking for a cheap way to get their product to market and if they can include gimmicks to help sell it in their advertising so much better.

    Like I said, who is your target market? If you are targeting the every day Joe who is going to take your beer out in his cooler by the 24 pack to sit in his boat fishing, or others who will buy cans in large quantities, then yes, cans I think are the way to go regardless of plastic liners, etc. Do you want your beer to be the beer that everyone in Knoxville, IA chooses over buying Bud, Miller, Coors, etc when they are heading out for the weekend? Or are you happy with having it compete with beers like Sam Adams, Fat Tire, etc.

    I guess what I am saying is figure out who you are wanting to be your target market the most and choose the packaging that is most likely going to help you sell to that market. Choosing the packaging before you even know who you want to sell it to might be backwards.

  8. 12
    Jim Ziller

    Well, I have been now reading more on can liners and trying to figure out what kind of plastic is in there. Not having much luck. It is in most if not all canned goods, pop cans, etc. Seems like all cans have this liner and I saw that plastic liners go back well into the 1930’s and earlier as a way to keep the acids in food and drinks from reacting with the metal and leaving the funny taste.

    But it seems like the main chemical that leaches into our drinks and food is BPA. It is a chemical that is shaped so much like Estrogen, that it starts taking the place of that hormone in our body causing all kinds of things to happen. Like I said, I am having trouble even finding out if the liner is #1, #2 or whatever.

    If nothing else if you go with cans, try to make sure it doesn’t have BPA in the plastic. I am picturing a male who is a heavy drinker of beer. He has this huge beer belly and man-boobs. Maybe it isn’t the beer. Maybe it is the BPA’s estrogen-like qualities making him look pregnant. 🙂

  9. 13

    Can’s are definitely “in” for craft brewers. All About Beer magazine just did an article on this very topic. You could always get around the labeling issue by doing what the first craft-canner did. Oscar Blues had blank cans and applied a bottle label to them.

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