Some prefer to drink their beer from a bottle, whether or not poured into a glass. Others prefer to drink their beer freshly tapped and others drink beer from a can. Everyone has their own opinion of what is best now, but is there a difference?
As you probably suspected, pouring beer from a wooden barrel is the oldest way. But did you know that beer bottles were founded in the early 17th century in England. These were hand-blown bottles with thin walls. The can is much more recent and it was the former Krueger Beer brewery in the United States that sold the first can of beer in 1934.
What are the pros and cons?
Freshly tapped beer has the advantage that less oxidation of the beer is possible, since their is less oxygen per amount of beer in a large barrel. There is also no influence of light, which is also an advantage with canned beer.
Oxygen and light are the 2 main enemies of beer. Contact with oxygen can give beer a so-called bread taste and bacteria have the opportunity to convert alcohol into acetic acid. Two not-so-tasty flavors in beer. In addition, light can cause the beer to get a cat pee smell due to the degradation of the hop elements.
Another advantage of a barrel is the constantly cooled temperature of the entire barrel. A delicious fresh beer is a bonus.
The disadvantage of a barrel is the limited shelf life once connected to the tap installation, so it cannot be used directly at home unless you are throwing a party. Classic barrel systems allow to tap the beer for 3 to 4 days without loss of quality. Barrels that you connect via a system with a barrel fridge can be stored for 14 days. Finally, you have the tank beer. The advantage is that one does not have to add carbon dioxide to this, because one works on the basis of natural pressure and therefore no supersaturation of carbon dioxide in the beer is possible.
So it is best to make a choice between a bottle or can for at home. The advantages of a can are firstly that, just like with a barrel, there can be no influence of light. The protection is optimal. Secondly, oxygen does not stand a chance because a can is 100% oxygen-tight. The beer cannot oxidize and retains its original taste. If you can then keep it cool again, a tin is the optimal way to store beer at home because an extra advantage is the space saving. You can easily stack cans. Some say they taste like canned beer but I would say do the test and pour the can into the appropriate beer glass as you would a beer bottle and find the difference in a blind tasting and find out what you will like best.
An additional advantage of cans is the marketing possibilities. Some breweries are very creative and develop beautiful designs that adorn the cans that make you curious.
Finally, we have the bottle. Most beers are bottled in brown bottles for the sake of protection from the light. Green bottles give almost no protection against this and are therefore strongly influenced by light and this is not only about sunlight but also about a normal lamp that you keep burning in your pantry at home. Green bottles are best covered with cardboard or a paper wrapper or put a blanket over the container to limit the influence of light in order to enjoy the original taste as long as possible.
A big advantage of bottles is the refermentation in the bottle that most craft brewers in Belgium use to add carbon dioxide to the beer thanks to the refermentation process. A glass bottle can handle this pressure difference very well. A can can be much more difficult with this, so at the moment the glass bottle is still the frontrunner in Belgium for storing beer compared to a can, given our tradition of refermentation in the bottle, which makes the brewing and bottling process considerably simpler than compared to bottling in look.
And to completely avoid the light effect, there are now also brewers with a full sleeve around the bottle, which again allows beautiful creative designs.
The choice of barrel, bottle or can is mainly a choice based on tradition, but if we are objective, can is the best choice for storing beer because no light or oxygen effect and longer storage times possible without taste effect.
For certain beers, however, we want a taste evolution, just think of Oude Geuze, certain Trappists, traditional beers, … and then the bottle is of course the right choice.
In short, there is no perfect choice. The main choice is to opt for local beers from local breweries and enjoy!