Good Beer Hunting

Fervent Few

Fervent Few — Bottles and Cans, Just Clap Your Hands

Last week, we ran a Sightlines piece about the continued, frenzied growth of canned beer sales, and it got us thinking about packaging. With so many different sizes of bottles and cans, is there a format sweet spot? Is there anything we shy away from? What’s up with those 19.2-ounce cans? And what’s next? Here’s what the members of the Fervent Few think about beer packaging.


Zack Rothman: “The vast majority of beer I buy is in cans. By now, a brewery canning beer has become less of an excitement and more of an expectation. I prefer cans because of their portability and sustainability. I also appreciate what they do to preserve beer freshness. What I do get excited about is seeing things like an affordable six pack of 16-oz. cans from a local brewer like Castle Island. You get a real bang for your buck! I also see that many brewers are moving from growlers to crowlers. I love the convenience of being able to pick up a 32-oz. crowler from a taproom to-go. They tend to last longer than the glass growlers, too. I think as more people come to realize the superiority of canned beer we will only see these trends continue. It’s better for all of us!”

John Bopp: “Cans for all the obvious reasons (portability, protection from light, etc). Love, love, love Hill Farmstead utilizing the 12-oz., six pack format. I get just enough of a higher ABV beer to be content, and I can always reach for another if I feel so inclined. Or if I’m consuming copious amounts of Mary in a sitting.”

Bill Holland: “People have a deep-seated preference over bottle vs. can in the domestic category, but I think packaging in craft is more connected with occasions. If I had to pick packaging, though, it’s the 12-oz. can. I can drink it fast enough to where it won’t be warm by the time I finish—with 19.2-oz cans, that’s not the case.”

Rick Owens: “Any time a favorite brewery of mine says they are bottling one of their mix-ferm Saison in magnums, I get overly excited. Although I have not acquired one yet, the idea of having a magnum of Ourison, Arthur, or Slow Bustle really makes me wish I lived in Northeast so I could acquire at least one to drink throughout an evening.”

Kirk Karczewski: “Something corked and caged always gets me excited. There’s something to ‘poppin’ bottles’ that adds to the experience of a beer. Right now, I’m excited about the 19.2-oz. wave. Most of the beers are sessionable.  Being on the distribution side, it’s fun having a change in packaging, especially something that I see consumers be excited about.”

Kimberly Clements: “I used to never drink cans, but now I’m totally ok with them. I prefer to pour the beer into a glass, however. I like to see my beer. Sounds a little silly, but I really want to look at it—hopefully in a pretty beer clean glass.”

Nick Yoder: “My hopes for packaging fall on opposite sides of the spectrum. I'd love to see bigger beers in smaller formats. Eight-ounce cans would be about perfect. And I'd love to see more magnums. There's just something satisfying about drinking from a package that large. I also wish more sour producers would adopt 375- or 500-ML formats. It helps bring that price point down to a more palatable level. What Crooked Stave is doing with 4 pack cans of sour beer is everything I hope the future will be.”

Mike McCarty: “I love the trend toward cans, but I wish more breweries would put out six packs of 12-oz. cans rather than four packs of 16-oz. cans. Sometimes that extra volume can be the difference between a relaxing beer and a solid buzz when drinking a high-ABV beer.”

Johnny Swinehart: “I think of my relationship with package sizes as a metaphor for my beer geekdom. Used to be super psyched for 64-oz. growlers of IPA, then 22-oz. bombers, then four packs of 16-oz. cans, and now, I’m like, ‘Can I just find a good Lager in 12-oz. cans?’”

Quinn Thompson: “With the exception of occasions where I need something easily transportable (camping, hiking, etc.), I'm pretty agnostic on the glass vs. bottle debate. I do think breweries attempting to differentiate on the shelf (via 19.2-oz. cans or 15 packs, for example) has driven a lot of the SKU proliferation in craft. As someone who buys beer packaging as a profession, I do find it interesting how well can suppliers have flipped the narrative in just a few short decades (or less). There's the matter of beer not tasting metallic in a can, which was a big factor in the downfall of cans years ago. What I find particularly impressive is how they've made cans out as the far superior sustainability play. In some cases they are—less weight means lower emissions from transport. On the other hand, glass is the only packaging container that can be recycled infinitely back into the original container. Our glass plant produces new bottles with 85% recycled glass. Sadly, for them, that point is largely overlooked by everyone.”

Carla Jean Lauter: “I don't mind can vs. bottle, but I wish the 16-oz. can size hadn't eclipsed the 12-oz. can's popularity so quickly. I love drinking multiple, different beers in a sitting, and I'm still not used to finishing 16-oz. before moving on. So much so that I keep finding myself with that half inch at the bottom of the can that I just didn't get around to drinking. So I guess I just want to put in a good word for the 12-oz. cans in six packs. I, at least, still want to them!”

Caldwell Bishop: “If I had my druthers, and assuming price and volume were the same, I'd prefer cans to bottles. On size, I think it depends on the beer. For Stouts and high-ABV beers that I might take longer to drink, I would generally prefer 12 ounces. Or something like 750-ML as, in theory, that would be to share with others. For lighter beers, it honestly doesn't matter. But generally speaking, I tend to assume/hope that the brewery has figured out what the best packaging is for their product. I believe Tröegs puts information about serving temperature and ideal glassware on their labels, which I really appreciate.”

John Conner: “In terms of packaging, I think the most important factor for me is whether or not the bottle or can has been dated. While I think most good breweries now have started to date, I have definitely come across cans or bottles that don't have one. When this happens and it's a style that needs to be fresh, I almost always skip on buying it. If a brewery does include a date, I definitely prefer cans to bottles because of their convenience, accessibility, and the little extra protection it provides as compared to bottles. I really enjoy getting crowlers, too, and most breweries and bottle/tap shops in my area offer crowlers to-go. Another trend that I'm noticing (and I like) is that some of the breweries in my area are starting to do 12- or 16-oz. cans of some of their beers that you can only buy at the taproom. One local brewery in particular, Benchtop Brewing in Norfolk, has started to do can release only on some of their new beers.  While I normally would want to try a new beer on tap first, I do give breweries I know and like the benefit of the doubt, and it's exciting to take that first sip and find that it's an amazing beer.”

Mike Sardina: “Naturally, if you look at the market, it's 16-oz. aluminum cans in a four pack that is the most in-demand form and combination of packaging. For myriad reasons that don't need to necessarily be repeated, I love the 12-oz. aluminum can six-pack format, especially for any beer that's higher that 5 % alcohol. Kudos to the breweries that are deliberately packaging in this manner.”

Richard Maletto: “As someone who actually sells packaging services and works with both bottles and cans, I find the shift interesting. The part that bothers me is the misconception on recycling. Glass is 100% recyclable. Glass companies would LOVE to get what they call ‘cullet’—or recycled glass—back. It can have labels, or even product residue, in it and it doesn’t matter. If they could, glass companies would use 70% cullet and take the bottle and make another. That’s not true of cans yet. Cans are considered the 100% recyclable container. It’s misleading, IMO. Now, I know most brewers will tell you pour every beer into a glass so cans are better because it’s air tight and completely light-blocking. But it’s still a metal can with an epoxy sleeve. That’s petroleum-based. So forgive me for having concerns. Meanwhile, I can’t even find a recycler in our area to actually recycle glass. They pay to dump it while glass companies want it. I only drink out of a can when I have to. At the race track, camping, etc. If I have people over, I always have bottles because they usually want to drink out of them even when I offer a glass. I prefer glass and always will, I think. Heck, we don’t even own plastic cups.”

Brad: “The only time that I would want a beer to be packaged in a glass bottle is if I'm going to be aging it. And when it comes to aging, my personal rule is the bigger, the better. This weekend, I opened a four-year-old double magnum of adjunct Stout and a two-year-old magnum of fruited mixed fermentation, and both of those beers aged fantastically. I know a lot of breweries with a focus on mixed fermentation, including Jester King, De Garde, Tired Hands, Side Project, etc. have been making these large formats more available to the public, and I definitely hope this trend continues to increase. That doesn't mean I'm not open to 500- and 750-ML bottles. But in the end, unless it's a style that I'm going to age, I can't develop a cohesive argument for why it couldn't just be in a can.”

Lewis Bower: “If I have a choice between cans and bottles, I'm choosing can. They're more compact, easier to store, block light better, etc. The exception is if it is a special ‘usually dark and high-ABV’ beer that is OK to be cellared for a little bit. In this case, I think 750-ML bottle is still best. Also, I think crowlers are the shit. They look and feel awesome, and are an improvement on the growler system, though I love growlers as well. To be able to transport fresh beer without the fear of carbonation loss or leakage is amazing.”

As always, we’d love to know what our readers think about these topics. While you can reach out to us on any number of social media channels, the best way to talk with us is by joining the Fervent Few. You’ll be supporting GBH’s content and learning things like how maybe cans aren’t as recyclable as bottles after all. Nice.

Hosted by Jim Plachy