Cans vs Bottles: The Taste Test

all day ipa

I actually considered not running this post for a while, lest I am accused of writing only about contentious subjects post leaflet debacle; fuck it though, it’s what’s at the top of the write-up list (and hardly a hot button topic any more). 

Bottles. Cans. There has been extensive discussion about the pros and cons, including this rather good piece by New Belgium on sustainability. Of course, cans prevent the beer from becoming light struck, but how does this actually translate to taste? One evening in the Northern Quarter, I joined Mike of Chorlton Brewing Company at Port Street Beer House to see if we could tell the difference.

We chose Founders All Day IPA as our test subject because A) it’s easy to obtain in various forms, B) differences in hop character would be easy to pick out, and C) it had travelled from America, so was already less than totally fresh.  Obtaining a bottle and a can, both chilled, we set up a triangle tasting – three sample glasses were poured out of sight of the taster, two containing beer from one packaging, one from the other. This obviously isn’t a perfect test by any means, but we did the best we could on the spur of the moment in a pub garden! I tried not to look too hard at the beer in the glasses before I smelled and tasted it, in case there was a difference in appearance (the above photo was, of course, staged to illustrate a tweet).

Unsurprisingly, the difference was marked, both in aroma and flavour. Of the samples I tasted, two were hugely aromatic, with massive citrus bursts, while one was subdued and a little elderflowery. Yes, it transpired that it was the can samples which were hop bombs, and the bottle which was tired and wishy-washy. “But what about freshness?” you ask: if we read the labels correctly, the beer in the can was older than the beer in the bottle.

This little (poorly controlled) experiment confirmed my expectations: cans are great for hoppy beer! Yes, I know you all knew that already. As you were.

2 Responses to Cans vs Bottles: The Taste Test

  • Velky Al says:

    It is expected that the can would present a ‘fresher’ hop aroma and flavour profile, simply by virtue of not having a Crown cork on it. The O2 barrier in the cap absorbs hop aroma to such an extent that most of the aroma is gone within about 20 days if I remember rightly. It would be interesting therefore to repeat your experiment with a beer style that doesn’t have such a pronounced hop aroma expectation and see what the different would be then.

  • @Velky Al – You make an interesting point about the O2 barrier absorbing hop aroma, I hadn’t realised the extent that this can happen. One other factor is that many cans can have more headspace than bottles, and suffer from oxidising more than bottles, and this is dependent on the quality of the canning machine, but is a common issue.
    Another factor is that a can vs a green or clear bottle will make a huge difference due to the light struck beer developing off flavours – my rant can be found here – http://www.beerwrangler.com/judge-a-beer-by-the-colour-of-its-glass/

    One other issue I’m trying to research is the leeching of residue from the plastic can liners (that protect the beer from ‘tinny’ flavours) having an effect on the flavour and health of beer.

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