As the craft beer movement in China goes from strength to strength, both overseas imports and locally-brewed beers are beginning to line up on our bar and supermarket shelves in a rainbow of edgy design. But alongside the ubiquitous and trusted craft beer bottle creeps a less-common presence in Beijing’s forward-thinking stores: the austere aluminum can.

For many, bottles still signify a higher-end product, as glass is undoubtedly nicer to hold and easier to drink out of, and for us, tinnies can’t help but conjure up memories of forcing down warm Fosters at a festival or perhaps your first house party Natty Light (for you yanks out there). However, experts in the industry seem set on cans providing a better beer experience, so it might be time to get over our collective distaste for metal in order to wrench canned beer back from the realm of illicit underage park-drinking and experience a fresh new world of beer storage solutions.


First on our list to help us weigh up the can vs. bottle conundrum is Jimmy Selent, Great Leap Brewing's communication manager, who kindly described why the can revolution is taking over craft beer.

Essentially, what is better for the beer, bottling or canning?
While both options have their advantages and disadvantages and neither are truly better than the other, when it comes to skunking – i.e. what happens when UV light interacts with the alpha acids in hops and produces an unwanted off flavor in the beer – cans prevent this better than bottles. As far as bottles go, the dark brown bottles most commonly used to bottle beer do protect from 98 percent of harmful UV rays, but aren’t as effective as cans that block 100 percent of harmful UV light. As one might think, green bottles protect even less and clear bottles are ostensibly useless at avoiding this problem. In the craft beer movement, cans are progressively being used more often in order to ensure beer freshness over a longer period.

Does beer from a bottle have a different taste from canned beer?
If brewed properly, there should be no difference in taste in the short run. In the long run, it will depend on how the beer is stored. They should both always be stored cold, and bottles MUST be stored out of reach of UV light.

We also caught up with Baylor Guild from Slow Boat, an enthusiastic proponent for the can’s cause. Slow Boat have installed a single-seam canning machine (say that 10 times after four pints), meaning if you’re convinced that cans are the future you can head down there yourself right now and get a beer-to-go canned straight from the tap.

Essentially, what is better for the beer, bottling or canning?
Bottles and cans each have their own fans. Personally, I prefer cans. Cans better help keep out the two main elements – light and oxygen – that cause beer to develop off flavors. They have no head space, meaning there’s less possibility of oxygenation. Also, they don't break as easily, weigh less, and are 100 percent recyclable.

Why choose bottling then?
We're still not at the point (especially in China) where canned beer is seen as a luxury product. Bottled beers still have the romantic and aesthetic value some customers want. That and bottle conditioning (adding a small amount of yeast to the bottle during packaging) are the only advantages to bottles.

What does bottle conditioning do to the beer?
It's just a way to naturally carbonate the beer – cans can’t handle the pressure. Bottle conditioning is only necessary with some very old traditional styles.

Does beer from a bottle have a different taste from canned beer?
Not really, unless the bottled beer’s flavor has been damaged by light or oxygen. It’s more a matter of consumer choice. For me, I like putting beers in my backpack and riding my bike without worrying that they’ll break. Weighing less is a major factor for portability!

As a Brit, whose national sport is cycling tinnies down to the park (not cricket, as some erroneously believe), I can certainly get on board with canned beer being easier to lug around. Rather than relying on brewing experts to tell us to get on the tin-train, however, we enlisted the help of the average Beijinger in a blind taste test comparing canned to bottled beer.

Choosing Brew Dog Punk IPA as our hoppy guinea pig (given that it's one of the few beers easily found in both bottle and can form in Beijing), we first surveyed our test subjects, who all admitted, as Guild predicted, to preferring bottled beer. Imaginary blindfolds on, and canned and bottled beers carefully poured out, we made our side-by-side comparisons. Our test subjects were unilaterally incorrect when guessing which beer was which, but all also preferred the canned beer, pegging it as fruitier, stronger in flavor, and slightly less fizzy. While this might be due to an unconscious bias towards what they thought was the bottle, it could also be taken as hard, scientific evidence of the mighty can's superiority.

Photos: cdn.gearpatrol.com, Brew Dog, Great Leap, Slow Boat

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