Barley Mowat 

Let’s Talk About Cans

with 10 comments

In a recent post I proposed something that proved far more contentious that I would have hoped: that you should drink beer out of a glass. That post also happened to cover a more deserving topic, so I elected to leave further discussion about drinking directly from cans/bottles for a separate thread. This is that thread.

So here we go; I will make my case for drinking beer out of a glass, and folks on the other side of the fence will counter in the comments.

Beer is not intended to be consumed directly from the container in which it was packaged. The fact that a lot of beer comes in single-serving containers might seem to contradict this claim, but the availability of single servings reflect the reality of a product that goes bad much faster that liquor or even wine if left open. Liquor is good virtually indefinitely after opening (26 servings per bottle), and wine can last at least a few days (5 servings per bottle). Beer is lucky to last two, hence 1 or 2 servings per bottle.

But it goes a bit deeper than that. Take liquor or wine: single serving packaging exists for both these items, but somehow you don’t look at those and think “Gee, that means I should use the shipping packaging as serving vessel.” So where’s the disconnect? Why do we treat beer differently?

Or maybe you do drink from the package. I mean, it does cut down on dishes.

The reason basically boils down to brainwashing. We’ve been trained through decades of commercials and macro-style advertising that beer should be consumed straight from the bottle or can. For the advertising executive, having the actor drink straight from the same container on display in the liquor store has an obvious benefit, but it also allowed them to insert an easily identifiable product into exciting new scenes, such as while hiking, hunting, skydiving or jumping ski-doos at each other for mid-air pool-noodle jousting (hey Molson: that last one’s free of charge–get on it).

Awesome aquatic hi-jinx aside, culturally we now envision this as the way to consume beer. But is it really the best way? Does it make a difference whether we pour it into a glass or if we crack a cold one and have at ‘er?

You betcha it makes a difference. Simply put: beer tastes better in a glass. Consuming a liquid is a three sense experience, and by keeping your tasty amber elixir in a can or bottle you’re only getting one of those. In addition to just plain ole looking nice, beer poured into a glass has a chance to release volatile aromatic compounds through the formation and dissipation of a head, and by simply having a larger surface area exposed to the air. Translation: it smells nice, and aroma is a significant chunk of your overall enjoyment of.. well.. anything you put in your beer hole.

If you are in a restaurant and the server doesn’t bring you a glass with your beer: bitch about it, because you’re actually being served a worse product. I have actually been asked if I’d like my Duvel in a glass, or if I’d like a glass with my 650ml bottle of Fat Tug; the fact that I was asked is almost as ridiculous as the image of drinking either of those straight from the bottle.

I’m sorry, there’s just no way to make this cool.

However, we’re not always in restaurants. What about at backyard BBQs? If the “backyard” is attached to a kitchen, get yourself a glass. It’s worth the ten seconds of effort. Hiking? You might not be keen on hauling glassware, but folding camping glasses are cheap, effective and weigh a heck of a lot less than the actual beer you’re carrying anyway. Not keen on bring home dirty glasses? What were you planning on doing with the cans, you slob?

As a general rule of thumb, if you would consider drinking the wine or liquor single-servings discussed above out of the bottle then your beer is fair game. If glassware is available and you elect not to use it, you are making the conscious decision to enjoy the taste of your beer less than you would out of a glass. If you’re doing that, why are you drinking craft beer in the first place?

Maybe you said “because I enjoy the experience of drinking beer out of a can more than the flavour” or something to that effect. If that’s the case, again I question if craft beer is for you. Unlike craft beer, macro beer should be consumed directly from the bottle and as cold as possible. Basically, anything you can do to hide or mask the actual flavour of macro beer will improve your enjoyment of it, so have at ‘er.

Lastly, yes, I am aware that Alchemist Brewing is actually recommending that their Heady Topper be consumed directly from the can. This is a marketing gimmick, plane and simple. The fact that the beer in question is a Double IPA–a style that perhaps benefits the most from glassware–should make this marketing gimmick punishable by law.

Alright, I’m done. Your turn.

Written by chuck

February 25th, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Beer and You

10 Responses to 'Let’s Talk About Cans'

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  1. Glad this spawned a post. In general, I agree with you. I am usually the guy at the party looking for a glass (or drinking my beer from a wine glass). I’ll always take a plastic tumbler over the can / bottle.

    However, I don’t think I see it as absolute. I’m really clumsy, if I am going to be walking around (or sitting in a hot tub) I need something to help the liquid stay in the container. I guess the situation where I can think that cans are appropriate, the wine crowd are switching to something else (beer, coolers) and the liquor crowd are drinking from a flask.


    25 Feb 13 at 16:43

  2. Yes, the Alchemist conundrum boggles my mind as well. If only I had time to stop in on the brewery on my recent trip out there. Oh well. I do indeed support all your points. I was recently in Whistler at the Roundhouse (where beer selection is extremely limited) I did notice they had cans of Guiness however, so I thought why not. Bought one, and asked the cashier if they had pint glasses. He said no they don’t, I would have to walk to the other end of the roundhouse to the full serve bar to get one. I resorted to drinking it out of a plastic coca cola fountain cup.

    That one boggles my mind too

    Mike Rock-Smith

    25 Feb 13 at 17:52

  3. I agree that beer should be enjoyed in a glass and 90% of the time I do enjoy it this way.

    However for some reason I feel like drinking straight from the bottle or can sometimes and enjoy the experience. I’d never drink something special this way, but one of my regular stand by’s for sure.


    25 Feb 13 at 20:19

  4. Nobody can argue that to get the most flavour and aroma out of a beer it is best served in a glass and I do agree with your points about the breweries pushing their brand.

    That said, I think your post is pretty snooty. It’s great to inform people of the advantages of using a glass when drinking but claiming that craft beer is only for people who never don’t enjoy the experience of drinking out of the can/bottle is arrogant and kind of hurts the push for the popularity of craft beer.

    When I am at home or a bar, you will find me using a glass 100% of the time but when I am camping or at the beach its just easier to relax and drink out of the can. I’m not going to drink a macro beer just because in this one case I am not getting the proper aroma.

    It’s the same with other alcoholic drinks. Some people say you shouldn’t put ice in whiskey. While I personally don’t, if you enjoy a good whiskey with ice better than without you shouldn’t be ridiculed into only drinking Jack.

    My two cents anyways.


    25 Feb 13 at 21:04

  5. Ya, people get it–you miss out on the aroma and visuals of the beer out of a bottle or can. That’s all there is too it. If I’m going to a park, I’m not going to take a glass (packing out doesn’t apply when there’s binners) but I’m also not going to be taking a beer that I want to appreciate fully. Just 1/3 of a Fat Tug experience is better than a macro beer so it’s still an improvement.

    And those single-serving wines are definitely meant to be drunk out of their container.


    25 Feb 13 at 21:44

  6. I’m just going to leave this here:

    /Edit by Chuck: Changed link to embed code


    25 Feb 13 at 23:37

  7. Big reply time.

    @PeeSeeGee — Good points, and as you mentioned on Twitter you do balance the quality of the beers you’ll be canning it up with (no CC IPA etc). Good compromise, but I’m not a compromiser 🙂

    @Matty — Yup, I’m a bit snooty. That’s my thing. Although I was more saying that Macro might be for people for whom drinking from the can trumps all other considerations, even when they’re at home or in a bar. Maybe that was lost between edits 14 and 15 in there.

    @RichardB — Good point about 33% of Fat Tug being better than other options, but all things considered I’m still bringing those tiny little fold out plastic cups. It’s a small bit of work for a lot of gain.

    @Matt — Interesting video, but his conclusion is the same: glass trumps can. A couple of notes that jump out at me:

    – The premise that oxidation begins immediately is true but misleading. It does begin immediately, but it progresses at such a slow rate as to be almost imperceptible on the timeframe of a single beer.

    – Aroma less noticeable after an hour: well yeah. The whole point of a glass is that it’s off-gassing aroma when you pour it, when you swirl it (we he did several times during the hour), and when the head dissipates. A beer has a finite quantity of aromatics in it so if it’s off-gassing faster it’ll have less at the end. This is not oxidation.

    – Yes, the can does have a layer of CO2 over the beer, but the second you crack it some of that CO2 is replaced with oxygen, and this continues as it vents. The glass also develops a (thinner) layer of CO2 over the beer as it vents. These things are moot, though, because we’re not leaving the beer out forever. We’re drinking them, and each sip you take creates empty space in the glass/can and that vacuum is replaced with, you guessed it, good old fashioned air (21% oxygen by volume).


    26 Feb 13 at 08:46

  8. Nice post! Here’s another great piece on the origins of ‘necking’ beer.


    27 Feb 13 at 14:23

  9. A bit late to the party here, but I wanted to chime in on one point:

    “The premise that oxidation begins immediately is true but misleading. It does begin immediately, but it progresses at such a slow rate as to be almost imperceptible on the timeframe of a single beer.”

    Pour a super hoppy beer carefully into one glass. Pour a second sample of the same bottle from a foot above the glass right down the middle to hit the bottom and let it froth up. Taste side by side. Point made.

    Dave S.

    5 Mar 13 at 22:28

  10. @Dave — Well, sure, rate of oxidation is a function of surface area obviously. Coincidentally, if you inject oxygen into a vat of beer via an air stone (aka micro-oxygenation), it’ll also oxidize super fast.

    I was more commenting on oxidation during “normal” beer consumption (whatever that means). The air exposure during pouring, rest and consumption over the 20 minutes or so it takes to sip down a nice IPA shouldn’t have a significant effect on the beer.

    Having said all that, I will absolutely try your suggested mini-experiment to see how much cardboard I can inject into my perfectly good beer through mistreatment. It might also be an idea to similarly pour the beer through an inert gas (like nitrogen) so as to isolate the effect of massive CO2 off-gassing such a cascade-pour would cause.


    6 Mar 13 at 09:38

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