Why I love beer cans

Why I love beer cans is mainly because it pays the bills. I work for an aluminum recycling company, the largest in the world in fact. If I could afford a canning line for my 30 gallons or so of homebrew a year, I would. Even with all my love for aluminum cans, there is no lost love for beer bottles either. Glass is a great product also. There are a ton of people who will fight for either. The trend lately is for everyone to favor the aluminum can however, getting the name ‘the personal keg’. The main contributor to skunky beer is light, and that’s not possible with a can. The can is sometimes called the most engineered product in the world and if you’ve been in any aspect of the aluminum can industry you’d understand that statement. If you ever get a chance to see a can maker facility, I’d highly recommend it. Though unlikely, if you get a chance to visit an aluminum rolling mill, it’s just amazing. There is an episode of Modern Marvels about making cans, it’s entertaining and educational.

The reason for this talk though is the comments coming from Lagunitas Brewing Company last week and how they would be the last brewery to put beer in cans. Their points are valid, but skewed slightly and heavily weighted in favor of glass. Here are some of his points:

Then nobody mentions that when Aluminum is recycled a large portion is vaporized when burning off the inks and melting. Glass recycles 100%.

That large portion he mentions is roughly 5%. We thrive every day to improve it. The can itself in our process is 98.5%, consistently. Some products recycle at 95%, while others are at a loss of 8%. None is a ‘large portion’.

Even more Glass requires lots of energy in the form of heat, for sure. Aluminum requires that- PLUS huge amounts of electrical current too!

The electrical energy is required to produce aluminum, not recycle it. The energy savings to recycle aluminum compared to producing new aluminum is 95%, along with a 95% savings to the environment. Whereas the energy savings to recycle glass is only 5-30%, that may mean it’s more energy friendly to produce glass and more difficult to recycle glass with a big energy savings. But I don’t think anyone would recycle glass for a profit if it’s only a 5% savings. Every pound of recycled aluminum saves 7.5 kilowatts of energy. The amount of aluminum recycled for one year is enough energy to power Philadelphia for six years.

Oops… made a hole in the world… but the beer is greener! http://t.co/Bl3e0xz9

bauxite mine

bauxite mine

Yes, that’s a bauxite mine, and it’s frightfully ugly. But what are the main ingredients in glass, mainly brown glass? Sand, Soda ash, Limestone and the coloring in brown glass is from iron and sulfur. Ever seen pictures of a limestone mine? Not pretty either.

limestone mine

limestone mine

Thankfully, er hopefully, the trend will continue to put craft beer in cans as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are beginning to do, along with small breweries like Mother Earth in North Carolina and Red Hare right here in Georgia. A few interesting facts about cans, the aluminum from a recycled can is back on the shelf in the form of a new can in less than 60 days. Somewhere around 1980 it took 20 cans to equal 1 pound of aluminum. Today it takes 32 cans to equal a pound of aluminum. What does that mean for the beer drinker? The beer is chilled faster and stays cold longer since there is less metal in the body of the can trying to return to ambient temperature. The lid itself has pretty much stayed the same thickness, though we’ve seen the changes in tab design.

I could take the extreme action here and say I will be the last person buy another Lagunitas beer. But I won’t go to that extreme, because frankly, they make good beer…even if it’s in a brown bottle that contains sulfur. The point that I wish Lagunitas would have made is to please recycle. Whether it be their product, others, a bottle or a can. The very next night after fuming about his slighted opinion on aluminum cans, owner Tony Magee announced he would return to Chicago to open their second brewery. Good luck to Lagunitas, and all the breweries making the decision to come to the ‘right coast’.

Sly Fox beer infographic

Sly Fox beer infographic
(image credit to craftcans.com)

Please recycle and continue to enjoy your canned craft beer in even more surreal places than before.


Posted on April 11, 2012, in craftbeer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The biggest problem I have with cans is that they are not useful to me as a homebrewer, whereas I can clean and reuse bottles. Reuse >>> recycle.

    • Reuse does not equal recycle. The more bottles you keep the that has to be created from raw materials again. But I agree cans do us homebrewers no good. I work in the aluminum industry and slowly as can plants learn how to work can body sheet they are asking for alloys that are easier to work. So hopefully soon we’ll start to see sealable cans or aluminum bottles. I have seen some people bottle into the 3003 alloy bottles like the Coors Light bottles.

  2. Agree reuse != recycle. I was trying to imply that reusing is far better than recycling, hence the greater than “>” signs. 🙂 At-home sealable aluminum would be an interesting product!

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