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Craft Beer Cans vs. Bottles - Is There a Difference?

Author // Jeff Wharton

Years ago, it was revolutionary when Oskar Blues started canning their beers. Recently, though, craft brewers have embraced this packaging format and every year seems to bring more and more good beer in cans. We’re at the point where even Samuel Adams whose founder, Jim Koch, said only recently that they would never can their beer is now putting brew into cans. With the format becoming more popular there’s a contingent of people who say they taste metallic notes in canned beer and those who say you can’t.

I’ve talked to beer packaging experts as well as brewers about this, and their consensus is that cans don’t impart flavor. The lining in cans is a water-based polymer that doesn’t interact with beer. Furthermore, this lining prevents beer from ever touching the metal in the can which, it turns out, is a good thing. The aluminum in modern cans is so thin that, if the lining was to allow beer through, the beer would eat through the metal before you could get it home from the store.

With that said, we thought this was an experiment worth running. So let’s see how it turns out!

Craft Beer Cans versus Bottles

Methodology

We've got four different beers, ranging from a simple craft lager to an IPA. All beers will be poured into an identical glass; we're testing whether cans or bottles effect the actual taste of the beer, not how the presentation effects the perceived taste. The beer will be poured and photographed away from me, so I can’t see which is which (in case there are any noticeable differences after pouring). I will know what beer I’m getting and any information that’s on the bottle/can. They’ll be served to me with a nondescript notation so that I can’t tell based on how the beer is labelled. I’ll get both beers at the same time, side by side, so that I can compare.

Cisco Summer of Lager

Cisco Brewers Summer of Lager

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 has a clear, golden hue to the beer with a thin film of bubbles on top of it. There’s a bit of lacing on the side of the glass as you drink the beer, but not too much.

Smell: There’s a sweet, slightly malty note to this one with just a touch of fruity hops perhaps. That could just be the yeast, though. It’s a little bready, almost like walking into a bakery where a lot of loaves are in the oven.

Taste: Just as it smells, it’s light and mildly sweet. There’s some nice malt to it, but it’s definitely understated. This is one that I could drink a lot of, it finishes with only a hint of aftertaste lingering in the back of your throat and bubbles you can feel scrubbing your tongue.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 looks the same as Glass #1, except there’s about two fingers of pure white head that is just lingering and lingering. As the beer disappears down my throat, the head does not, coating the sides of the glass the whole way through.

Smell: Glass #2 doesn’t smell quite as sweet as Glass #1. It’s got a brighter, less bready aroma to it and the aroma is much cleaner. It still has a slightly fruity thing going on, again perhaps from the yeast.

Taste: Again, just like the smell, this one is a good bit brighter than Glass #1 and less sweet. The carbonation isn’t quite as strong, but he aftertaste lingers just the same...a drying presence in the back of my throat. Overall Glass #2 leaves my mouth significantly drier, probably from the reduced sweetness. Glass #2 is also a bit more minerally, which is contributing to that increase in perceived brightness.

Which is canned?

Honestly I’m not sure. I don’t pick up any metallic tastes or smells from either one. The differences between the two could be batch variation, as the cans are brewed and packaged at different facility than the bottles...or it could be something else...but none of it strikes me as the metallic notes that are typically thought of as indicative of cans. I’ll pick Glass #2 because it seems a bit fresher and cans allow less air to get in. But, again, I’m just not sure. Neither seems “canny.”

Result - Glass #2 is canned. Jeff is correct.

Wachusett Summer

Wachusett Summer Ale

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 is a light, bright yellow color clear as day. And, just like a bright, clear day there are little wisps of white bubbles on top, just like a few lonely clouds in the sky.

Smell: The smell is clean, almost too clean. There’s a hint of citrus in here...lemon it seems like. Finally, I’m getting a bit of tang at the very end of the smell, but I’m not sure where it’s coming from.

Taste: Again, that lemony fruitness is back. It’s not strong, but it’s there: right up front, then again in the aftertaste. In between, there’s a wheat-like chalkiness. This is a dry, super-crisp beer with fairly strong carbonation.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 looks exactly like Glass #1.

Smell: If Glass #1 smelled clean, Glass #2 is somehow even cleaner. I’m not picking up much of anything, if I’m being honest. As it warms you’ll find a bit of that lemon from Glass #1, but that’s about it.

Taste: The lemon is slightly stronger in Glass #2 than it was in #1. It’s more persistent of a flavor than it was in Glass #1, but the wheat is still there in the mid-palate. That said, Glass #1 and Glass #2 are really similar.

Which is canned?

I’m even less sure than the last case! At least in that last one there was a difference in sweetness, which can possibly indicate oxygen exposure. I know that these two beers are brewed at the same place, as I’ve seen Wachusett’s canning line. Here it’s just a difference in lemonyness (is that even a word?) which is almost definitely just batch variation. Even if it’s not, I’m not sure what that would mean as far as can vs. glass. I’ll say Glass #1 is canned, as some people think the liners in cans might absorb flavor? But I’m just guessing here.

Result - Glass #2 is canned. Jeff is wrong.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Samuel Adams Boston Lager

Glass #1

Appearance: Glass #1 is a robust amber color that is, again, clear enough to read the logo on the glass through. The head is cream-colored and big enough to overflow the glass yet thick enough to not stream down the side. Even halfway through drinking the glass, there is still a ring of foam around the top, sticking to the glass.

Smell: This is definitely a lager, without any yeasty fruitiness in the aroma and that familiar smell that is almost sulfury that seems the be ever-present in lagers. There’s a bit of spicy hops here, but they’re nice and balanced.

Taste: Again, this is definitely a lager. It doesn’t have the yeasty esther notes that even filtered ales have. It’s smooth, with quite mild carbonation and a hoppiness that stays with you throughout the sip, but never overwhelms. The beer isn’t sweet nor is it hoppy. It’s just flavorful, with malt reminiscent of rustic German bread.

Glass #2

Appearance: The color on this beer is identical to Glass #1 (even with the glasses next to eash other), but the head is highly diminished. There’s a bit of lacing around the side, but it’s much thinner than on Glass #1.

Smell: Unlike Glass #1, Glass #2 has much less in this department. The smell is milder, the hops aren’t nearly as strong and the lagery, almost sulfury aroma just isn’t there. Is this the same beer?

Taste: OK...this might be the same beer. The flavor profile is definitely close, but there are different highlights. First, there’s a lot more carbonation here. Glass #1 felt almost like cask ale, but Glass #2 has prickly, sturdy carbonation that hits the roof of your mouth with a pop. The hops are there as well, similar to Glass #1 and that lager taste is definitely back. Aside from the carbonation, these beers identical in taste.

Which is canned?

I have no idea at all! The only difference is carbonation. And that may be just due to the larger head on Glass #1. Even though they were poured together as similarly as possible, maybe one vessel agitated the beer more? I don’t know, I can’t even make a guess here. I have no idea.

Result - Glass #1 is canned. Jeff is wrong as he didn’t even make a guess.

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale

Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale Ale

Glass #1

Appearance: Again, the beer is clear clear clear with a copper tone to it. A big, off-white head perches on top, just sitting there looking delicious.

Smell: Hops. Yep, that’s pretty much it: a bag of hops. It’s a little fruity smelling, with tropical notes coming through. It smells just like an American IPA.

Taste: And there are still hops here. It’s a little sweeter than I expected from the smell, but not by much. There’s some decent hop bitterness and a resin that sticks through the back of the throat. The malt is pretty light, with hops being the predominant flavor here, but those hops are a little more piney than the smell.

Glass #2

Appearance: Glass #2 is really similar to Glass #1, except there’s only a thin memory of head here and the liquid is a little darker.

Smell: The hops are way milder on the nose in this one. There’s some malt that comes through here, although it’s still in the background and just a hint of mustiness.

Taste: There’s less bitterness in Glass #2. The beer is sweeter, probably because of the lowered bitterness. Also, the flavor of the hops is lighter, which is to be expected since there’s so much less hop aroma. That resiny feeling on the back of the throat is still here, but it’s diminished. And the musty smell I got? It’s here a little bit, but accompanied by a bit of minerality.

Which is canned?

Again, neither beer has any metallic tastes that people seem to associate with cans, but the closest I can come to metallic is the minerality in Glass #2. Sometimes those two flavors can be confused. That said, if cans are supposed to reduce oxygen exposure, the brighter, more fresh hop flavors in Glass #1 would seem to point to that one being the can. So, basically, my decision comes down to whether I think the mineraly/metallic flavors or the brighter hop flavors come from the can. Given what I know about the polymer can linings, I’m going to guess that the increased hop flavor and freshness is from the can.

Result - Glass #1 is canned. Jeff is correct.

Conclusions

I ended up getting half correct and half wrong...although I couldn’t even make a guess on one of the beers. 50/50 is what you’d expect if I was just guessing, so it seems that I couldn’t tell which was which. I didn’t pick up any metallic flavors in any of the beers that weren’t there across both glasses. After knowing the results, it seems that cans gave beer more head, possibly because you have to pour over a raised lip which agitated the beer, as opposed to a smooth glass bottle top? Either way, I couldn’t find any of the alleged flavors that people claim to get from cans. There were definitely flavor variations between the bottles and cans, but that could be chalked up to batch variation, differences resulting from contracting the beer out to facilities with a canning line or other reasons.

We’d love to hear from our readers, though. What do you think? Do you notice metallic flavors when you drink beers that have been canned? Let us know.

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

One of my all-time favorite IPAs has to be Bear Republic Racer 5. This West Coast IPA brings a fruity hoppiness, strong bitterness and dry finish that I love in an IPA. In fact, I have a good friend that probably prefers this beer to any other IPA out there...it’s a good bet that I can get one whenever I visit his apartment. Racer X is Racer 5’s big brother, a Double IPA that has made a few appearances on tap in Boston over the last year, but they’re few and far between. Until now, when Bear Republic decided to bottle a batch and send some of this big, hoppy brew to the lucky folks in Massachusetts. It seems that it may still be a less common sight, though, as it’s dated with a vintage date. I had to pick one up, so let’s crack it open.

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA

With a hazy orange body and the lightest of light brown head, this beer just looks hoppy! The head is thick and sets at about two fingers.

Dank, piney hops rule this beer! It’s just thick with the aroma of the humulus lupulus flower. I inhale and it feels like it’s coating my nose. Oils and pine, extract of pure hoppiness that I just can’t get out...and why would I want to? Honestly I’m surprised that the head of this beer isn’t green from hops. I’ve seen it happen before! Honestly...OK, maybe not. But if you try this beer, you’ll understand why I think it could happen here.

Upfront Racer X is a crisp, tight and bitter double IPA the likes of which you’ll only find from the West Coast! As it lingers a bit more some malt comes through and it’s a bit candy-like. As the beer warms a bit of orange comes out. This is a great beer! The hops are strong and assertive but in balance. The malt is just enough to make this bitterness tolerable. If you like Racer 5 you owe it to yourself to try Bear Republic’s Racer X Double IPA!

Stone Brewing Espresso Imperial Russian Stout [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

Years ago, when I was first delving into craft beer, one of my friends told me about this dark, strong elixir that I just had to try. This was back when Stone Imperial Russian Stout only made peekaboo-like appearances in New England for a week or so after it was released and then it would be gone for another year. If you weren’t quick, you’d lost your shot. Luckily, I walked into the store one day and they had just received their case. I grabbed a bottle and, after I cracked it open, found out that my friend hadn’t lied. Fast forward many years and Stone announces that they’ll be adding espresso to this beer for their 2013 Odd Year series release of Stone IRS. Now, if there’s one thing I like as much as beer it’s coffee...hell, our first collaboration beer was a coffee stout we released with Notch Brewing! So I was over the moon about this and knew I had to get a bottle. Well I did, and here it is.

Stone Brewing Espresso Imperial Russian Stout

What’s the darkest place you can think of? Perhaps your childhood basement at night with the lights off (if you’re the sentimental type)? Well this beer is darker than that. It’s black like the absence of light. Black like the Brooklyn Nets’ jerseys. Black like black is black. You get it, right? It’s really dark. As you pour a short, tan head forms on top, completing the illusion of drawing a shot of espresso and getting a good crema.

Not unsurprisingly, the predominant aroma in this is coffee...a roasty, mildly fruity blend of beans that smells like it may have a hit of bitterness up front. There’s a sweetness in the aroma that is similar to the way that coffee with milk and sugar smells. Once you’re past the coffee, and it does mellow as you smell it more and your nose becomes a bit numb to it, the dark fruit and berry aromas of the base Stone Imperial Russian Stout begin to come through and you get the nuances of this beer. If it was just a stout with a ton of coffee in it, I’d drink it and enjoy it. But it’s these additional layers that make this such a great beer.

A thick, viscous brew, the Stone Espresso IRS hits you right upside the head with a serious espresso fist. Honestly, in many ways it reminds me of the Taza Coffee Mexicano Chocolate: dry, slightly bitter and a ton of coffee flavor. The sweetness and fruit flavors that are so expressive in the regular version are nowhere to be found here, even as the beer warms, having been countered by the Ryan Brothers Coffee beans. There’s a bit of a chocolate milk flavor in the finish and the mouthfeel isn’t that far off either. The light, but permeating, carbonation is just enough so that it doesn’t feel flat. If you love coffee and Imperial Russian Stout, then you’ve got to check this one out! But make sure you like that caffeinated black stuff or else this may not be the one for you...it’s coffee like whoa!

Bantam Cider La Grande [Cider Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

It was only last year that we started writing about cider here at Drink Craft Beer. Contemporaneously a slew of cider producers launched right in our backyard...or at least in our city. One of those was Bantam Cider Company and their Wunderkind cider. We’ve waited for the follow up with bated breath and even got a sneak peak at jm Curley a while back...finally, they’ve released La Grande into bottles, their long-anticipated barrel aged dry cider. Aged in rum and bourbon barrels, this one has me stoked because I’ve long hoped for brewers and cider makers to branch out in the type of barrels they use...and rum is one of my favorite liquors. So let’s dive right into this one!

We're also excited to have Bantam joining us for Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale 2013!

[Editor’s Note: You may be wondering why Sarah, Drink Craft Beer’s cider writer, isn’t writing this review. Don’t worry, she’ll be back, but she’s currently on a reviewing leave as a result of being pregnant with our first child. I say ours because, if you haven’t volunteered at a Drink Craft Beer festival, you may not know this but Sarah and I are married. We can’t wait for the first Drink Craft Beer baby...branded onesies coming soon!]

Bantam Cider La Grande

La Grande is a crystal clear, amber honey tinged cider than can only be qualified as luscious. It’s honestly the color of light, high-end maple syrup. As with almost all ciders, a lack of protein in the liquid means there’s no head...don’t worry, that wasn’t just me executing a poor pour.

The first word that came to my mind - and will come to yours as well, most likely -  is juicy. Seriously, I could smell this while I was pouring it in a big way. As I’m typing this, the La Grande is off to the side and I can smell it. This is one deliciously fragrant cider. It’s much sweeter in aroma than Bantam’s flagship Wunderkind, which has more of a wild flower honey thing going on. Big, juicy fresh pressed apple juice asserts itself right away. I keep putting my nose into it, and more details keep coming out. After that apple sweetness there’s some tannin that I had assumed was from the oak barrels, balancing the sweetness a little. I was at best half-right as it turns out this cider was made from “the Reine de Pomme, an heirloom French Cider apple rich in tannins,” according to the label. Either way, there’s a lot going on and it all works! (Note: Let it warm up for a bit and more of those rum notes will come out...as a fan of rum, I’m really digging it!)

Whoa! That is NOT what I expected! As I mentioned, the cider smells sweet and full-bodied. The label mentioned a blend of wild and cultivated yeast, leading to a complete fermentation and dry product. I didn’t think that could be true given what my nose perceived, but I was wrong. The low residual sugar mixed with tannins from both the apples and barrels means a super dry drink. With that said, while dry usually means crisp, I would never use that word to describe this one. Rather, a restrained hand with the rum and bourbon barrels adds on to those Reine de Pommes, lending a character similar to white wine. La Grande will just dry out all the moisture from your mouth with a ton of tannin. Don’t shy away, though, as it’s quite delightful. In the end, I’ll sum it up by saying this is a cider that you have to try. It blew my mind and then I went back for more. We here at Drink Craft Beer love Wunderkind and this is a great follow up for their second product!

If you'd like to try some of Bantam's offerings, they're available in stores all over the Boston-area or you can come out to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale! They'll be pouring a special farmhouse cider, as well as other offerings!