By Duncan McHenry
As he settled into a wrinkled leather couch, KU graduate Kyle Gardner cracked the tab of a Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat. The dark, milky-sweet stout beer from Tallgrass Brewing Co. in Manhattan is Gardner’s favorite brew — and it only comes in a can.
“I actually like both [canned and bottled beer], but I can tell cans are definitely becoming more prevalent,” Gardner said. “Tallgrass beers actually only come in cans, and I’ve seen New Belgium and beers like that in a can, so I’m sure it will keep growing.”
For Gardner, canned beer is a gameday tradition no matter the season. When he’s in the mood for something less-than-top-shelf he’ll buy a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys to share with friends during basketball games. And during football season, he tailgates with canned beers to avoid broken glass.
“You’re not hauling around a load of bottles. I’d much rather crumple up a can,” he says.
Gardner is not alone in his preference for drinking the planetary favorite liquid from a can. According to a 2012 Brewer’s Almanac Report, cans held 53.2 percent of the beer market share, and bottles held just 36.5 percent.
The rising popularity of canned beer has paralleled the growth of the craft beer industry. Many popular microbreweries such as Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are producing canned beer, and a few, like Tallgrass, are getting rid of bottles completely.
Many glass fans object to a metallic taste when they drink canned beer, which Cork & Barrel General Manager Brendan Dowdle says is all in their heads.
“Generally, I don’t get that metal taste some people are tasting. Maybe they’re just tasting the outside of the can,” he said.
With beer being such a light-sensitive drink, cans are actually a more effective storage vessel than bottles. A recent New Jersey Business Journal article, “Getting Canned: Why Beer Tastes Better, Sells Better in Cans,” said cans are more airtight than bottles and offer full protection against UV light. This is crucial to flavor because hops — the flowers that give beer its bitterness — can spoil easily with too much light.
With just five Ripple Glass recycling locations in the Lawrence area, ease of disposal is another factor in Gardner’s — and likely the nation’s — affinity for aluminum. Right now, the jury is mostly out on whether glass or aluminum is more eco-friendly.
In a 2011 article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, proponents of cans argue that aluminum is lighter and has a naturally lower carbon footprint from a packaging standpoint, whereas glass supporters say mining silica to produce glass is much less energy-intensive than bauxite used to make aluminum. To leave the smallest carbon footprint possible, the article concludes, the best option is a mug of beer from a local bar tap.
After Gardner and his friends had drained his six-pack of Buffalo Sweat cans, they threw the crushed empties in a grocery sack. But at least there’d be no urgent need for a trip to the recycling center, he said.
“It’s easier to dispose of and transport cans, I hate the clanking of bottles when I throw them into the glass recycling. It’s very jarring — especially when you’re hungover.”
Edited by Hannah Swank
Photo by Duncan McHenry