Can vs. Bottle vs. Draft: Which tastes best?

You’re shopping for beer and you always ask yourself – should I get cans instead of bottles?  It seems like the standard convention is that bottled beer is better than canned beer – but let’s dig down into this common misconception by looking at the principles of beer preservation.

Beer Preservation

Remember this – fresh beer is the best beer. Therefore we want to make sure that the beer that we buy is as fresh as possible.  So what leads to staleness in beer and how can we avoid it?  The two main culprits of stale and off-tasting beer are oxidation and light.  Oxidation can occur from exposure to air and can give beer a variety of off-putting tastes from aldehydes (paper or cardboard taste) to melanoidins (sherry flavor).  Light can affect beer by chemically breaking down some of the fermentation byproducts into 3-MBT, a chemical found in skunk spray.  If we can minimize these two factors, chances are that we’ll have a fresh tasting beer. So let’s look at how cans, bottles, and kegs compare in preservation.

Cans and Kegs

Cans and kegs have a similar form factor which leads to cans sometimes being called ‘little kegs’.  They are extremely effective at preserving beer from light degradation as their metal exterior allows in zero light.  In addition, cans provides a great seal and do not allow any air into the vessel after canning.

Bottles

Being made from glass, beer bottles will always allow some light into the beer. Clear and green bottles are the most susceptible to light degradation, which can often lead to skunked beer when not stored in a dark place. Ever wonder why Corona and Heineken can often taste skunked? Now you know why! Brown bottles are the best for reducing light emission, however they still allow some in.

 

Beer caps also don’t provide a 100% seal from air, allowing it to seep in over time. This can eventually lead to stale beer as explained earlier.

Verdict

As far as preservation goes – cans are the superior choice for when looking for the freshest beer.

Tasting beer

Let’s talk about taste. Many people will think that taste only comes from your tongue, but in fact many other factors are at play here. Ever notice how taste diminishes whenever you have a stuffy nose? That is because the aroma that hits your nose and the back of your mouth provides a substantial proportion of the overall taste. Thus, you’ll want to maximize your experience by making sure all of these areas a part of the tasting process.

Always Pour into a Glass

To increase the exposure of your nose to the aroma of the beer, you’ll almost always want pour your beer into a glass. The large opening allows the beer to ‘breathe’ and when you take a drink, your nose will be able to smell the various aromas. This will give you an enhanced tasting experience. Bottles and cans’ small openings completely cut off your nose from the equation, so you’ll get a diminished taste. It would be silly to drink wine directly from the bottle instead of a glass, so what makes beer different?

 

In addition, you miss the presentation of the beer if you consume directly from the bottle or can. When drinking, it is enjoyable to see the color, opacity, carbonation, and head formation of the beer. So my recommendation is to always use a glass unless directly specified otherwise by the beer.

 

Here is a great starter set of beer glasses if you are in need of some:

Libbey Craft Brew Sampler 6-Piece Beer Glasses Set

If You Don’t Have a Glass

If you don’t have any glasses available, drinking from a bottle or a can will be a similar experience.  So I would choose based on which would provide the best freshness (hint: the can).