There is just something about drinking beer out of a long-neck bottle. It feels more substantial and in my opinion provides a more enjoyable beer drinking experience than drinking out of a can.* But, does bottled beer actually taste better?
A study from 2016 conducted at the Edinburgh Science Festival by researchers from Barney’s Beer, the Norwegian Business School and the Oxford University department of Experimental Psychology has come to a conclusion: the beer tastes the same regardless of packaging.
In the study, one group was poured beer into two cups, one from a bottle and the other from the can. The beer inside the bottles and cans was from the same batch packaged at the same time. The volunteers were first handed the packaging (bottle and can) and asked to examine it. Then, they tasted the beer. 62% preferred the taste of the beer from the bottle. Additionally, based on a questionnaire, the tasters overall considered the beer poured from the bottle as being higher quality and tasting fresher.
A second group of volunteers undertook the same taste test except that it was blind as to which beer was poured from the bottle or can. In this test, the volunteers could tell no difference between the beer. So, when we don’t know the packaging, we can’t tell the difference in taste.
Why do we tend to prefer bottled beer if it tastes the same as canned beer? It has to be psychological. The researchers noted that cans were used for decades with mass market beer and thus cans may be associated psychologically for most people with lower quality. Of note, “when ‘craft beer’ emerged as a category it was predominantly packaged in bottles (a more commercially accessible format for low volume production) and had a premium price” we associated bottles with higher quality. “Thus bottles, which had all but disappeared during the preceding two decades returned with a premium or quality association in the beer category. That said, things look to be changing once again, with cans now being presented as the fresher, more convenient, packaging format by craft brewers
(led by those working out of the US.”
Back in 2012 the Huffington Post ran its own less scientific study of the bottle vs. can preference using Sierra Nevada, Budweiser, Heineken and Sapporo. All four beers were blind taste-tested and the tasters preferred the taste of the can beer by a hair. The results were close enough to conclude that no taste difference exists.
*Beer tastes better when consumed out of a glass rather than directly from the bottle or can. Use of a glass increases the beer’s aroma, which adds to our tasting experience. The aroma is increased primarily due to pouring, which helps to produce bubbles which helps to continuously release aroma as well as having a larger opening that allows our noses to engage with the beer.
I think I just heard that John’ firm (St. Louis Trust) is going to host a live taste test for IFOD followers in October. Free beer, music, lively discussions regarding bottles, cans, and pouring methods. Details to come.
I’d be interested in a taste test comparing draft vs can or bottle of the same beer, controlling for variables like freshness and temperature of the beer. My hypothesis is that ambiance of where the beer is consumed has the greatest impact on the quality of the experience.
That would be an interesting experiment. I wonder if one of the commercial breweries would fund it?
And who said that beer drinkers aren’t sophisticated?
The beer is the same so if you pour on a glass it will taste exactly the same unless it has been affected by exposure to light or heat (bottles more likely to be affected). When drinking from the can, your nose gets close to the metal and /or some impurities on the lid that can add off flavors. Also, the liquid does not go into your mouth the same way and you end up taking more CO2 in. Net net, although the liquid is the same, I like it better drinking from the bottle. Just compare drinking from an aluminum bottle, it feels more like a glass bottle than an aluminum can
I am Too busy drinking tequila shots on the beach right now to comment but will take the test tomorrow. I know I will like the bottle beer best. 😊
Ok, why are there so many comments on the taste of canned vs Bottled beer and so few comments on subjects regarding science and technology? Anyway, I think the issue with beer is smell. That is, most canned beer is consumed from the can. The can has some olfactory characteristics to it that bottled beer does not have. Thus, when one drinks from the can we get the smell of the can as well as the smell to the beer. Thus, we perceive the canned beer does not taste as good. I bet all the taste test poured the beer into a glass before tasting.
I like cold beer on a hot day.
Another note on beer from a glass – the type of glass actually matters quite a bit. Putting a beer in the proper glass for the type of beer has a significant impact on the taste. The shape of the glass determines which taste buds get the flavors when and that impacts flavor!
I question the results of the study as we don’t know the source of the cans and bottles. Beer in a bottle is exposed to light which causes a degradation in taste (with green and clear glass being the worse offenders: take that Heineken and Corona). Canned and draft beer have zero light exposure and don’t have that problem. If you go buy your bottled beer from a retailer that has stored it properly and then serve it to subjects immediately then maybe you can get these results. However, under real life drinking conditions where the six pack might hang out for a while, there is an inevitable degradation in quality, particularly with imports. Light Damage v. Placebo Effect, maybe they balance out.
I dont buy Gonzalo’s theory about light degrading taste. Heineken green bottles were used in the Huffington Post “test”.
See link below, Gonz is right, unless you like the taste of skunkier beer. 🙂