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Buying Beer: Choosing a Container

Beer drinkers have argued endlessly over whether beer is better bottled or canned. The beer can offers the most convenience, but you can’t argue against the aesthetics of the old brown bottle. Besides, where would great bottleneck slide guitarists, like Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, be without glass beer bottles? Have you ever heard of an aluminum-can slide guitarist?

Buying your beer in cans

The bottle predates the can by about 4,000 years. People went from drinking fresh draught beer at a neighborhood tavern (or carrying it home in a bucket) to buying it in stores in bottles. Beer cans, first introduced in 1935, revolutionized the brewing industry. When canned-beer packages (six-packs) were introduced, they were much lighter, quicker to chill, and more convenient than bottles. Sadly, the beer all too often tasted like the can it came in.

Eventually, a synthetic liner that shielded the beer from contact with metal was invented, and the can became more popular than ever. Somewhere along the line, the old tin can was replaced by the newer, lighter, aluminum can, and partly due to the rise of mass marketing, the beer industry hasn’t looked back. But even today’s aluminum cans are lined with a food-grade liner to keep any beer from coming in contact with the can.

One of the many advantages cans have over bottles is the complete elimination of light damage and a considerable reduction in oxidation damage (oxidized beer is beer that’s been exposed to oxygen). Heat, however, can still be a problem as it accelerates the oxidation process.

Buying beer in bottles

In spite of the beer can’s popularity, the beer bottle never really faded away. The only notable changes were in the realm of convenience. The old, heavy, returnable bottle was replaced in most markets by a lighter, throwaway version and a twin with a twist-off top.

The most common reasons for buying beer in bottles rather than cans are

  • Bottles keep the beer colder than cans after you remove them from the refrigerator or cooler.

  • More brands are available in bottles than in cans.

  • Bottles seem to be more aesthetically pleasing than cans.

Buying a growler of beer

These days, one of the most interesting aspects of retail craft beer sales is actually a throwback to pre-Prohibition days. Growlers are becoming quite popular for carry-out sales of beer at brewpubs and microbreweries. Growlers are typically 1/2-gallon glass jugs filled on demand from the brewery’s taps and sold to go. Most often, breweries charge a set price for a filled growler (depending on the beer of choice), with a reduction in price when you bring your growler back for a refill. Some breweries even give you a free fill after so many paid refills.

Buying a growler from a brewpub is often the only way to enjoy that brewery’s beer away from the brewery. Very few brewpubs bottle their beer, so growlers serve as their only form of packaging.

Buying beer by the keg

You may not need to buy a keg of beer very often, but you’ll probably get one at least once for a picnic, a softball tournament, a birthday party, or a burn-the-mortgage bash. And at least some of you belonged to the popular fraternity Tappa Kegga Bru in college. Besides, the only way to have fresh, unpasteurized draught beer is to buy a keg.

Buying a keg is easy; transporting it is the hard part. The big ones are really, really heavy — like 150 pounds. Don’t lift one yourself! Have someone big and strong pick it up, or have it delivered straight to your party.

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