Cans Are Trending But Evidence Emerges That Bottles Might Be Better After All
The cans versus bottle debate will probably rage on forever, but here is some evidence to prove that bottles are better than cans when it comes to craft beer.
It's true that light damages beer, which makes it taste skunky. But there is a dark side to can production that most brewers don't know about. Cans are made out of aluminum, which is refined from bauxite, which is mined from the earth in deep, nasty, environment-destroying strip mines.
John Myers, head brewer for Crooked Letter Brewing Company in Ocean Springs, MIssissippi, says that bauxite mining is especially bad for the environment because it is strip-mined.
Myers is not an expert in bauxite mining, but is familiar with the process from doctoral research in geology. When a site is strip-mined, the site is deforested and all of the top soil is removed, causing micro-habitats to disappear. Then there is the introduction of the chemicals to extract the ore and the subsequent transportation and processing into aluminum, which consumes a tremendous amount of energy.
And once the site is completely depleted, it can turn into is called a superfund site, or the contaminated remnants of the mine that is designated by the U.S. government for clean-up.
"It destroys the environment and leaves the site in a constant state of remediation because it is all messed up," Myers said.
To get an idea of how ugly a superfund site can be, take a look at what pollutes some of the superfund in Florida, including some in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
CC Flickr/robstephaustralia A strip mine.
But use 100 percent recycled aluminum cans, you say? Sure, recycling all aluminum and ridding the world of bauxite mining would be great, but only a small portion of refined aluminum is made into beer cans. Yet, almost one third of recycled aluminum comes from used beverage containers, or UBCs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
And just like aluminum, glass can be recycled too, although Myers admits that he is not familiar with how much energy it would take to recycle bottles compared to UBCs.
From a consumer standpoint, cans are superior because of the freshness factor. But what exactly is keeping that beer fresh inside the can? That would be bisphenol-A (BPA), a substance known to induce cancer in mice, and it's sprayed to line the inside of a can. And some varieties you just wouldn't want canned, such as sours, whose acidic compounds could spell contamination for an otherwise perfectly fresh beer.
From a brewery perspective, canning lines are expensive, costing several hundred thousands of dollars compared to a bottling machine, which costs significantly less.
Myers also talked about minimum can orders, quantities which can dwarf bottle orders.
"We're talking about 250,000 can orders versus 25,000 for bottles."
Storing cans also takes up more space in a brewery than bottles do. Cans may come cheap for a company in the market of selling cans, but not so much for a brewery making beer.
Myers is not the only brewer to prefer bottles over cans. Lagunitas Brewing likes bottles for the same reason.
It's hard to argue that cans preserve the product much better than a bottle would over a longer period of time. But let's be honest, which makes the best collection? Bottles, of course.
Plus, if it ever came down to it, which would you rather use in a fight to the death?