Sierra Nevada on the cans vs. bottles debate

sierra nevada can pic

[Courtesy of FreetheHops]

(Chico, CA) – Cicerone Certification Program™ founder, Ray Daniels, sparked some debate on Twitter over the past 24 hours when he shared comments regarding cans from Boston Beer Chairman, Jim Koch. A few tweets:

 

Yep. “Stupid.”

BeerPulse pinged Sierra Nevada Brewing Product Development Manager, Bill Manley, to get his take on it all. Coincidentally, Daniels actually certified Manley as a Cicerone™ Manley passed Daniels’ Certified Beer Server exam (and awaits results of the Cicerone exam) so one would think Manley speaks from a position of credibility when it comes to beer flavor and science…

Says Manley, “I respectfully disagree with the notion that there is a flavor difference between our bottles and cans. We’ve done extensive (exhaustive?) sensory and analytical analysis that suggests otherwise. In hundreds of double-blind trials we’ve found no statistical or analytical difference in flavors. There is literally no difference between the beer in the can and the beer in the bottle. Occasionally they come from the same bright beer tank.”

Sierra Nevada puts live yeast into its Pale Ale cans so that it will ‘condition’ after packaging, much like it does with bottles. Torpedo, meanwhile, is not can-conditioned though it is tank-conditioned just like the bottled version.

Manley continues, “The plastic argument also doesn’t hold much water with our lab analysis. The plastic lining in cans can scalp flavor but crown liners can scalp as much, or more, than can liners. The plastic under a crown is more dense than can-liners and can have a far more detrimental effect on flavor, specifically hop flavor. Our research shows little-to-slight deviation in longevity and hop aroma trials over extended aging. In fact, it gives a slight edge to cans at 120 days.”

On a related note, sales for cans have been solid thus far, though, due to capacity constraints, the company has no plans to can additional brands through 2013.

“The latest numbers (through mid-June) show that we’ve sold about 240,000 case equivalents of cans so far this year. Overall, we are up significantly year-to-date with both Pale Ale and Torpedo. Most of that growth is coming from packaged beer rather than draught.”

Alright, readers. Where do you stand on this issue?

43 thoughts on “Sierra Nevada on the cans vs. bottles debate

  1. Just my opinion (and palate), the cans do taste different. I actually like the flavor I get out of the Pale Ale cans compared to the bottle. For Torpedo, I like both equally and they are very close. Flavor aside, I like the Torpedo 16 oz. format which is just the right amount of Torpedo for me.

  2. I like the SNPA in cans. I think it has a fresher taste. I buy the cans when possible.

  3. I think that some extent, it’s a mental thing. Over the years, many of us had become conditioned to think “cans are bad, bottles are good”. It’s a bit of a beer snob thing as well, because when one thinks of beer in a can, they think of some mass market beer like Budweiser, Coors, Miller or PBR and some people are suspect of any beer in a can even from a respected craft brewery. It’s a stupid thought when you consider that draft beer is canned beer. There is definitely a difference in taste when it comes to bottled v. draft and that’s not some figment of the imagination.

  4. I can definitely tell the difference in taste between Sierra Cans & Bottles and I have passed the ‘blind Sierra can test’ every time I take it. While I can’t identify which is exactly can or bottle, I can always distinguish a noticeable difference in both aroma and flavor. Not that it’s bad, but the resulting product is different.

  5. Interesting debate…. however, the real debate within the industry is over the “environmental claims” of canned beer. In a perfect world where 100% of aluminum was recycled and bauxite mining wasn’t destroying the planet, yes canned beers are pretty damn environmental. But that’s not the reality right now. Many brewers, including Lagunitas who is very outspoken on this issue, believe that glass is the most sustainable packaging method, when considering the impact of bauxite mining vs. glass production.

    As for flavor, personally, I don’t detect much of a difference that would stop me from drinking either bottles or cans in favor of the other. I like cans for outdoor adventures, but typically prefer bottles when at home. Just my thing, but not saying my answer is the end all be all.

    Cheers,

    The Wench

  6. I love cans, but whatever – it’s not very important in the end. I’m curious now, though – is there BPA in the plastic under crown caps?

  7. I am not into the can fad that is going on currently. I think it’s cheaper for the beer makers, but I don’t see a price difference on the retail end, so I can’t see the benefit for me. I have always been able to taste metal when I drink beer out of a can. I will test pouring one into a class and see, but I know that glass is one of the least reactive materials out there. We use it for our supplements for a reason. Glass will dissolve mack into the earth nicely, but it does use lots of heat to produce. If we only reused bottles and not just recycled them, then it would be more green for sure (though many wouldn’t like the idea of that).

  8. Maybe I am just a pro-can person here and it is affecting my palate, but I favor the can format in almost all hop-forward beers I’ve tried. That includes Sierra Nevada’s cans and most recently cans coming from Boulder Brewing company (Hazed and Infused). The hop character and beer as a whole seem to be fresher from the canned versions.

  9. Folks there is no difference in taste. It’s all in your head. Buy whatever you like. For me cans “Rock”. Keep em coming!

  10. Some folks claim cans give beer a metallic taste. Some folks claim cans give beer a plastic taste–FWIW, I’ve never tasted either of these. All I know is that cans: a) are lighter than bottles b) can’t break and c)will protect the beer from light.

  11. There will always be a difference at the consumer level point of sale. Light, movement (shipping), time & temperature variances influence all package types positively and negatively sometimes. There will always be variables like this when beer travels many miles to someones dinner table. As brewers, we cannot control them all of the time. We can only strive to make the beer as good as possible before it leaves our brewery. Once it’s in the hands of distributors and wholesalers, all we can do is hope for the best…………a quick sale that will ensure freshness.

    Which is better, cans or bottles? That is for the customer to decide because experts in the lab cannot, and never will be able to, reproduce every single situational example of how a beer will taste when it finally reaches the consumer.

    What I want to know is who will finally put a bottled beer in a can. Now that will be amazing.

  12. @earthandsun It is not cheaper to can vs. bottle. Aluminum is more
    expensive and also have to have each can printed as opposed to having
    labels made and slapped on a blank glass bottle.

    Cans allow zero light
    and are 100% sealed (if they are capped correctly of course) which
    means no air in or CO2 out. The taste of metal is all in ones head.
    Maybe when cans were made of tin or none lined aluminum, but not
    anymore. Hop forward beers are great for cans because of the above
    reasons.

    One thing to also keep in mind for those doing there own
    blind taste tests, just because you bought the same beer in cans and
    bottles from the same store at the same time, doesn’t mean it’s the
    same batch. The only way to do an accurate test is to have product
    from the same batch in both glass and aluminum.

  13. It’s all mental. If anything, cans will keep the beer fresh longer.

  14. I personally prefer the PA cans. It has a fresher taste in my opinion.

    Ashley, regarding the environmentalist of cans vs glass I’m still confused. Does the larger use of fossil fuels to transport the heavy glass come into play at all?

  15. Given the choice of packaging on a given beer, I choose the can every time. I remain confident in the knowledge that whatever beer it is, the can provides superior protection versus oxydation and ultraviolet light. I respect Ray Daniels a great deal, but I must disagree with him on this issue whole heartedly.

  16. There is a huge gap between the knowledge of a Certified Beer Server and a Certified Cicerone. Having said that, I believe Sierra’s research.

  17. Although I haven’t done a blind tasting, I’m not confident that I could tell the difference in flavor between an otherwise-identical canned and bottled beer. I engage in a good bit of outdoor activity that makes cans very much more convenient due to weight and compressibility, though, so I do buy and carry cans of craft beer with reckless abandon and no complaints.

  18. As a visitor to the brewery, I was with a group who were fortunate to be at the SN Brewery during a day of testing bottles vs cans. Everyone thought they could tell the difference. Turned out nobody could. I’m convinced there is no difference.

  19. @Daniel Cruz:
    I don’t think you can test that, as I’m sure you will never have exactly the same beer from the same lot in your can or bottle. You’ll never have the bottle with the same transport time, same climate etc etc
    As all those parts make the whole thing and the one taste you will always find a certain difference in tase ;)

  20. cans are pretty awesome. i believe people taste differences in cans vs bottles as much as they do in corked belgians vs crowned, or any other notion of superior “traditional” packaging. there’s a lot more that goes into what you’re tasting than just what your taste buds are telling you. if you’re dead set against cans, you’re probably not going to enjoy this beer you just poured from a can.

  21. @BrgtonMlf Yes, there is a huge difference between a Certified Beer Server and a Certified Cicerone…that said, I’m not the one doing the research. We have several PhD Chemists, and flavor aroma and sensory experts doing the research in our analytical labs. I’m just the mouthpiece, not a scientist. My bona fides don’t have much to play in this debate other than the fact that I’m writing the data down.

    Cheers!

    -Bill Manley
    Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

  22. This just shows the fallacy in the Cicerone program. Even the head honcho that started this to “benefit” the beer community (read make more money from the craft beer lovers) is full of it.

    There are tons of good points made above. I like cans for the ability to go outdoors with them easier. Parks allow cans, they don’t allow bottles. Besides that, I would always choose glass. I’m not sure how well cans will hold up to cellaring.

    And as far as that statement in the article about the plastic absorption, or adsorption?. I find it hard to believe that the plastic in a bottle cap, that rarely comes in contact with the beer, would transfer more character and harmful chemicals to the beer than 12-16oz of beer in constant contact with the plastic BPA liner in the cans. I would like to see your ‘facts’ concerning that study – if one was performed. And not just passed off as fact, as it seems was done here Bill.

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  24. I think the big differences between cans and bottles is longevity.

    Being in Australia the only can beers we see are the mass produced crap, or a limited amount of craft from itnernational breweies.

    I’ve done a side by side comparision with Punk IPA from Brewdog..

    And while this isnt the most scientific of trials, to me the can seemed to maintain the hop profile of the beer better then the bottle.

    Cans also are solid, so no possibility of lightstrike…Also are sealed better.

    win/win I think

  25. Matthew,
    There is a big difference between flavor and aroma scalping and the BPA question. I’m a beer person, I can speak to the scalping of flavor and aroma by the plastic in caps and crowns. You want hard data? email me: [email protected]

    As to the BPA issue, I never mentioned it and never addressed it in any conversation above or otherwise. BPA has no effect on beer flavor scalping and therefore, not my area of concern. Bottom line, yes, BPA is in can liners. All can liners from vegetables to soda pop. As I’ve said, not my area of expertise. You’ll need to decide for yourself if you consider that an issue.

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  27. I hypothesize that the real difference is in the delivery. Drinking from a can is different than a bottle in significant ways. The size of the “bloops”, the amount of air, the way you hold your mouth, the amount of foam in your mouth etc.. I personally like coke from a can and beer from a bottle. Blind taste tests and lab science are about the contents not the delivery method. Try beer through a straw sometime and see if it tastes the same!

  28. I can’t believe people drink beer straight from a can or a bottle.

    Anyway, what was the question???

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  30. Love the conversation here! Just thoroughly enjoyed a can of SNPA. It’s tastes different much in the same way a different style drinking glass changes flavor. It’s all in your head. Sensory perception goes way beyond one dimension. Great beer, great container! The Torpedo is also awesome. I am also a huge fan of the 16 oz. format. Rock on Sierra Nevada!

  31. I spend my summers on the water (boat, beach, pool), so I’m grateful to have good beer available in cans. I think I perceive a difference between canned and bottled beer, but I believe it’s mostly psychological. And even if it’s actual, these beers are good enough that it doesn’t matter. Anyone who would shun a good beer just because it came from a can has taken beer snobbery a bit too far, IMO.

    And yes, I drink my Sierra or Dale’s straight from the can. ;)

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  33. For me the can is far superior in flavor, living in the UK all our American beers have obviously taken quite some time to be shipped over and every single time the canned equivalent is just fresher tasting, more upfront hoppyness, more resinous mouthfeel, more aroma, everything is better in a can. Actually even with more local beers (BrewDog Punk IPA/Dead Pony Club) the cans always taste better and more full on flavour, even drinking straight from the can.

    I am however a little alarmed about the presence of BPA in canned beers and will probably reduce my consumption of them because of this alone.

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