Recently, in the comments, Ghost Drinker mentioned that in his shop he was selling canned Grolsch alongside the bottled version at a considerably lower price, and wondered why anyone would choose to buy the bottles. So I asked the question “How much would you pay for a bottled version of a 5% beer selling at £1.25 for a 500ml can?” There were 75 responses, broken down as follows:
No more than £1.25: 27 (36%)
£1.40: 13 (17%)
£1.50: 22 (29%)
£1.75: 5 (7%)
£2.00: 2 (3%)
More than £2.00: 6 (8%)
Given the wide range of responses, it’s clear that some people are prepared to pay substantially more for bottles than cans, while others aren’t that bothered. It’s certainly true that there remains a widespread view that canned beer is inferior to bottled, which may stem back to the 60s and 70s when can technology was less developed and canned beer was often felt to have a metallic taste. For some CAMRA members, a can defines all that is bad in beer, and they wouldn’t be seen dead with one in their hands. Presumably even if it contained Budweiser Budvar or BrewDog Punk IPA.
While I don’t avoid them on principle, I can’t say I’ve bought very many cans, and never really tried to do a direct comparison between two beers that purport to be the same. It remains my perception that beer doesn’t taste as good from a can as from a bottle and so, while I might find a can of decent lager refreshing on a hot day, if I really wanted to appreciate a beer I’d go for a bottle. But I don’t know whether that’s just a perception, or does still reflect a genuine difference in taste. Some canned premium ales have a distinctly different, softer carbonation from the equivalent bottles, which is an attempt to give them something of a “draught “ character, but can come across as merely a bit flat. (Incidentally, for what it is worth, I would never drink beer directly from either a bottle or a can)
It’s also the case that, with few exceptions, “premium” products come in bottles, not in cans. Even when effectively the same beer is sold in side-by-side in both forms, bottles are priced considerably higher than cans. Bottles are for savouring, cans are for indiscriminate guzzling.
You can actually see this in action at the Bottle Stop, a specialist off-licence in Bramhall, a prosperous suburb of Stockport. This sells a range of imported German bottled beers, many from Bavaria, typically at prices between £2.00 and £2.40 a bottle. It also sells some imported German beers in cans, not necessarily the same ones, but with an overlap in terms of style and strength, typically for between £1.25 and £1.50. So it seems that, in practice, enough people think it is worth paying a premium of 75p or more to make it worthwhile for the shop to stock the bottles.
There has been a lot of discussion on beer blogs in the past few days on the questions of cask vs keg vs bottle vs can, with by no means a universal condemnation of cans, so you will notice that I have started a new poll asking whether or not you drink canned beer.