There are plenty of beer styles and flavours to choose from. Beer can be marketed in different ways. Beer lovers can therefore choose between different options for drinking their favourite beer. Draught beer is a must in catering establishments, while bottled beer is mainly drunk at home. Canned beer is also becoming increasingly popular. We examined the keg, the bottle and the can, and we discovered that each packaging has advantages and disadvantages.
Before we start our analysis, it is important to talk about the factors that have a major influence on the taste of the beer: oxygen, light and temperature. Oxygen causes beer to oxidise, giving bacteria the chance to convert the alcohol into acetic acid. Light changes the character of the hops and the temperature can remove some of the aromas from the beer. To avoid all of this, it is necessary to choose a packaging that eliminates as many factors as possible. And that can be done with draught, bottled or canned beer.
To the bottom of the keg
We start by examining a keg of beer. Barrels, kegs or casks protect the beer against the influences of oxygen and temperature. The keg contents are exposed to less air, so the beer oxidises less easily. In addition, a keg has a constant temperature because it is cooled all the time. Therefore, the beer taste is not affected.
Yet there is a downside to draught beer and you may have already experienced it yourself. The amount of carbon dioxide in draught beer is often higher than in bottled or canned beer. This extra CO2 provides the necessary pressure, but also increases the risk of a headache after drinking a few beers. Beer brewed with love should therefore be drunk responsibly!
Colour is everything
Breweries put a lot of effort into the design of the label on the beer bottle, because presentation matters. But does a creative, beautiful design contribute to the taste of the beer? For beers refermented in the bottle, it certainly does.
However, when we examine the glass bottle, we notice some downfalls. In the store or at the pub we mainly see brown beer bottles. This colour offers the best protection against light and as we know, light has a negative influence on the taste of the beer. The ultraviolet rays break down the hop molecules, which causes a bad taste. Test it yourself at home: put a bottle of beer in the fridge for a week and put another one on the windowsill for a week. We already know which beer will end up in the sink.
Yet here and there we also see transparent and green beer bottles. It is a fact that these beer bottles offer little to no protection against light rays. That is why breweries are looking for creative ways to keep the bottles dark and cool. Often we see a piece of cardboard on a crate of beer with transparent or green beer bottles. Sometimes the bottles are wrapped in paper, which serves as a label. A good example are the Bacchus beers by Kasteel Brouwerij Vanhonsebrouck.
Store in a cool and dark place
Of course, breweries don’t have everything under control. In the supermarket, beer bottles are exposed to a large amount of light. If the bottles are displayed next to the window, you can almost be sure that the flavours will no longer be as balanced as they should be. The neon lighting can also be detrimental to the taste of bottled beer.
The temperature also a key role, because beer bottles undergo temperature changes more often than a beer keg. Finally, a beer bottle is not completely oxygen-tight so that the beer oxidises faster. And unfortunately, this also influences the taste of beer. These disadvantages are fortunately less marked when you drink a bottle of beer in a pub. Catering managers are aware of the influences of temperature and light, and therefore keep their beers in a cool and dark place.
The taste of canned beer
Canned beer is becoming more popular and is no longer associated with cheap lager only. More and more people are succumbing to the advantages of canned beer – and there are quite a lot of them. The American Kreuger Beer produced the very first cans of beer in 1935. Using cans was a well-thought-out choice, because aluminium is light- and oxygen-tight. The beer cannot oxidise and never comes into contact with light rays. In other words: the beer maintains its original taste.
Yet some people claim that the aluminium gives the beer a metallic taste. This may have been the case with the very first cans of beer, but nowadays the production process of aluminium cans is so advanced that the material does not give off any taste. So if you still taste a metallic taste, then it is probably psychological and you can still pour the beer into a glass. After all, we often don’t drink beer directly from the bottle, so why drink it directly from a can?
Just like bottled beer, canned beer is sensitive to temperature fluctuations. However, canned beer cools down much faster than bottled beer. The can doesn’t need to be refrigerated for hours, which of course requires less energy. You notice this on your energy bill and in the long term it is also better for the climate.
Nobody can deny that Mother Nature is in favour of canned beer. An empty can of beer can be thrown away in the blue PMD bag and is fully recyclable. Beer cans are also easier to stack than bottles of beer, allowing a truck to transport more in one ride. The truck has to be on the road less often, which results in lower emissions.
Weighing your options
There are three types of packaging on offer, each contributing to the taste of beer, so we don’t have to make choices. Kegs, bottles and cans each find their way to beer lovers. In a pub, we like to drink draught beer and at home we often opt for bottled beer. Canned beer is on the rise at events, thanks to breweries that are committed to producing canned beer. In late 2019 Kasteel Brouwerij Vanhonsebrouck in Izegem inaugurated its new canning line. With this line, the family brewery of specialty beers marks the start of a more sustainable future. It is therefore up to the breweries themselves to continue to innovate in sustainable packaging so that consumers can enjoy the wide range of beers in a responsible way.