Beer labels: 4. Yes we CAN!

The Americans have been doing it for a long time, the English too, as well as several Spaniards and meanwhile some Italians and Dutch. And of course there are also some Swiss. We’re not talking about some populist jumping jacks that get elected. It’s about canned beer. And if you turn up your nose at beer from a can, this article is for you. And everyone else, of course.

Text in Deutsch hier verfügbar

Ob Coop Prix Garantie, Oettinger oder Anker, sie haben eines gemeinsam: sie verkauft sich einzig und allein in der 0,5 Liter Dose. Büchsen sind also für Billigbier gedacht und gemacht. Ende der Geschichte, Fall abgeschlossen? Sicher nicht. Normalpreisbiere wie Feldschlösschen Premium, Quöllfrisch, Heineken und Becks gibt’s auch aus der Büchse.

Whether Coop Prix Garantie, Oettinger or Anker, they all have one thing in common: they sell only in the 0.5 litre cans. So cans are meant and made for cheap beer. End of story, case closed? Certainly not. Normal price beers like Feldschlösschen Premium, Quöllfrisch, Heineken and Becks are also available in cans.

And more and more craft beers are joining them. In this country, Brewdog Punk IPA has practically made the beginning. Meanwhile, more and more Swiss craft breweries are also using aluminium cans: St. Larentius, WhiteFrontier, Broken City and Dr. Brauwolf bring their beers to the market either completely or partially in cans. It is high time to take a closer look at the round thing made of aluminium.

The craft beer scene would be unthinkable without it

Red Bull has impressively demonstrated that beverages in cans can certainly bring lifestyle with them. Craft beer producers from the USA have breathed new life into cans for beer as well. Cans have many advantages over bottles. But also a few challenges. These seem to be masterable and the can has become firmly established in the international craft beer scene. But many Swiss breweries are still hesitating.

This certainly has to do with the fact that the glass bottle does not have this cheap beer image attached to it and therefore the can is out of the question for expensive, premium craft beer. Especially in the gastronomy sector, it is either not accepted or only slowly. Serve the guest expensive craft beer from a can? This is what Swiss innkeepers disapprove of. In addition, many Swiss craft breweries start as hobby breweries, as is also explained in the article “Can Switzerland handle 100 breweries?” For hobbyists the bottle has the advantage that they don’t need an expensive bottling line, but only two hands. Craft beer, at it’s purest. Point one goes to the bottle.

Better for the beer quality

Craft beer is mainly sold in brown bottles because light is simply bad for beer; it changes its taste. The darker the glass, the better it is for the beer. So why not use an opaque material directly? Like aluminium, for example? That is better for the quality of the beer. Now it’s a tie between glass and can.

If you think that beer from a can simply tastes worse than from a bottle, you should know that you always drink craft beer from the corresponding beer glass and not directly from the can or bottle. This is the only way one can really experience the beer aroma. Always? No, “The Alchemist-Vermont” writes explicitly on their Focal Banger and Heady Topper cans: “Drink from the can”. Reason: They have invested so much in capturing the essential oils of hops that decanting into the glass already means a change in taste due to the partial aroma loss. And indeed, it tastes more intense from the can than from the glass. But these craft beers are definitely exceptional. No points are awarded here.

While we are on the subject of printing on the can, it can be attested as an advantage for the glass bottle that it does not have to be printed on, but can be labelled quite easily. But a printed can is not a must. The silver (or black) can blanks are also ideal for attaching labels. An even more professional appearance without expensive printing is possible with the shrink foil which surrounds the can completely. But also the combination of a printed blank with a label, like La Nebuleuse does, is a possibility. Since the can is a clean cylinder and not slightly curved like the glass bottle, even large  labels are no problem. Two to one for the can.

Smaller ecological footprint

In times of climate demonstrations and flight shame, we should of course also consider the ecological footprint. Sure, the best thing is to drink local beer made from local products. If such a thing is not available at the moment, it is recommended to use cans, because they have much less empty weight.

That is important – in three ways. Firstly, during transportation to the brewery, secondly during transportation to the customer, and thirdly during transportation to recycling. For comparison: an empty 3 dl can weighs 11.5 grams, an empty glass bottle at least 190 grams. That is 1652 percent more! So for 1 litre of beer in three cans or bottles, either 1034.5 grams or 1570 grams must be transported. With 178g CO2 per kilometre and metric ton  in local truck transport, this adds up. Especially if the beer comes from far away by plane (which is of course ecological nonsense), then it is 713g CO2 per kilometre and metric ton. Another point that goes to the can.

Likewise, the eco-balance of the can is better than that of one-way bottles when it comes to how much energy production and recycling require. According to the SRF, the can is on a level with returnable glass or PET (although PET is not suitable for beer). Producing a new can from an old one also requires 95% less energy than producing a new can.

And with a recycling rate of 90% in Switzerland, the score actually looks quite good. And it gets even better the longer the transport distances are. Beobachter.ch calculates that from a distance of 230 kilometres upwards, the ecological footprint is even smaller than with the reusable glass bottle. 4:1 for the can.

Inexpensive cans

Since we are just taking stock, we should also consider the costs for the brewery. According to our own Internet research, there are machines of different performance levels and quality in all conceivable price ranges for both bottling and canning plants. However, according to Valentin of Lab 63, what makes a professional and automated can filling line a lot more expensive than a comparable filling line with crown caps is the fully automated and technically complex sealing process, which is constantly monitored by sensors and software. The quality of this seaming process is decisive for the absolute air seal of the can and thus for the quality and shelf life of the canned beer.

These professional seaming machines and sensors make a can filling line considerably more expensive. The necessary quality of the seam also speaks against simple “hand sealers” which, with their very limited capacity, no longer make sense for breweries from a certain level and sales volume. For the price of the filling line, the points would go to the bottle if there were no mobile canning lines like those offered by the Swiss Startup Lab 63. In accordance with the shared economy principle, breweries can enjoy the benefits of a fully automatic, sensor-monitored, professional bottling plant including specialized personnel on their planned bottling day without having to make the high investments themselves.

In addition, the prices for the cans or bottle blanks must of course also be included in the cost calculation. This is where the points go to the can, which for small purchases, at 16 to 19 cents including the lid, are significantly lower than the approximately 40 cents for bottles (without the lid). The only problem for small breweries is, that cans can only be ordered in huge numbers, while bottles are available in small quantities air resellers. Therefore no points are awarded here.

Under pressure

The fact that the can does not have to hide behind the bottle is also evident when it comes to filling. Those who do not have pressure tanks usually opt for secondary fermentation in the bottle, where the yeast is reactivated by adding sugar and then provides the carbon dioxide in the sealed bottle. The exact same process can also be initiated in the aluminium can. This can withstand up to 6 bar pressure, if properly closed. This is comparable to the pressure that otherwise only the champagne bottle, the most stable and correspondingly heaviest bottle on the market, can withstand. Another pressure point for the can.

This means that it can also be filled at room temperature and without back pressure. The bubbles are then created in the can. If, on the other hand, an already carbonated beer is to be filled, it must be cooled accordingly. The more carbon dioxide it contains, the colder it must be. Ultimately, however, this point hardly differs from bottling. It remains 5:1 for the can.

Speaking of filling: A disadvantage of the opaque can is the fact that once the thing is closed, it is no longer possible to check the contents. So it happened to me that I had a 44cl aluminium can, which was only about 2/3 filled. Since I have never heard of similar experiences of others, the probability that this happens is about the same as that the can bursts. This also happened to me recently, but it can happen to bottles as well, as I was told by several people. Again, no points awarded here.

Just practical

Now that the brewery side is covered, let’s go back to the beer drinkers. For the consumer, the can is in fact several times better. The light and air impermeability has already been mentioned. The latter allows the can to be stored upright or lying down (whereas with lying down storage the yeast sediment is of course on the wall and thus is more likely to end up in the glass). Secondly, it can be stacked, which saves a lot of space when stored upright. And once it falls to the ground it won’t burst into a thousand pieces. If you are lucky, there is even only a dent in the can. A clear plus in handling, 6:1 for the aluminium thing.

The list could probably be continued, but the final result would not change. So it would be high time that not only craft beer enthusiasts were convinced of the can’s qualities. It’s high time that the many micro and nano breweries in Switzerland, the gastronomy scene and the craft beer novices also reach for the aluminium can instead of the glass bottle and thus definitely wipe off the last bit of dust that still hangs on the image of the can.

What are your experiences and preferences with cans and bottles? Write us in the comments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.