OK, just so’s we’re clear, the title of this piece does not refer to drinking beer on the toilet. (Note to self: I do like this as an idea – add to blog post schedule). It does of course refer to the recent debate on whether craft beer is better stored in/served from a bottle or a can. Every other beer writer in the world seems to have recently written a post on the topic, so I thought I’d better join in.
Of course, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said in this great piece from Business Insider looking at the American market, Stuff.co.nz’s take on the Kiwi scene or closer to home, this post by the King’s Chronicler of Devil’s Peak Brewing Co. The pluses far out number the minuses – cans keep oxygen out, meaning your beer stays fresher. They also keep the light out, saving your beer from the lightstruck aroma that could be the ‘nosetrack’ for a Pepe le Pew cartoon in smellivision (I’m trying to be clever here – lightstruck beer stinks like skunk). They’re easier to transport – a big deal for far-flung South African craft breweries – and easier to recycle, which should be a big deal for us all. And no, cans don’t make beer taste like metal.
Then there’s the downside. As far as I can tell there’s really only one, but it’s a big one – public perception. Let’s put aside ridiculous gimmicks like mountains that turn blue when your beer is cold enough to drink (I feel I’m intelligent enough to work out when my beer is at the right temperature all by myself), cans with extra wide openings (to cut down on chin dribblage I assume?) and most ridiculously of all, cans in the shape of bowties, designed for an easy grip. Y’know, for those tricky moments when your can of beer slips from your fingers and spills all over the floor. Seriously – are we all so dumb/drunk that we need all this assistance with sipping our beer? (In fact, Bud’s bowtie can is marketing genius – you get more aluminium and less beer for more money…though of course, some might say less Bud in a can is actually a bonus).
Anyway, silly designs aside, the major hurdle for brewers who want to save the planet and the quality of their product by canning rather than bottling is the idea that canned beer is cheap crap, that good beer doesn’t come from a can. This isn’t helped in South Africa by outsized cans of super-strong lager like Faxe or Pirate. But if 300 US breweries can put their quality ales in cans, we should be able to shake these perceptions that canned beer is crap beer.
It’s much the same as cork snobbery when it comes to wine. Screw-top wines are often looked upon with disdain, but despite the lack of romance when it comes to unscrewing a bottle of Shiraz rather than uncorking it, the benefits of the less poetic closure are undeniable. If we can just get over our perception that canned beer means cheap beer, we would probably be in for an altogether better beer experience in SA (assuming brewers here can go into cans – I don’t know much about the equipment side but I imagine it’s pricey). One of the biggest problems in the South African beer scene is consistency, particularly when it comes to bottled beers. The scope for contamination seems huge – something that should be lessened if craft beer here was put into cans.
In closing, I’d like to ask you how you drink your beer. I’ve heard people say things like “I don’t care how good the beer is, I’m not drinking it from a can,” and to these people I would say this: get a goddamn glass! For me, the can is a storage vessel, not a drinking vessel and you shouldn’t be drinking out of it any more than you should be drinking craft beer from a bottle. The first sip is with the eye, the second with the nose and the third is an actual sip – you can’t appreciate the colour and aroma of a beer if you’re swigging from a bottle (or a can). Remember that many SA craft beers are bottle conditioned (they have yeast in the bottom) – they should be poured with the utmost care. Too much yeast gives you the shits – and that brings us, as everything seems to, back to toilets.
This post was originally published on The Craft Beer Project.