Can vs. bottle: what's better for beer?

Beer expert Kirk Bodnar on how light and oxygen impact beer

In the debate of can vs. glass bottle for Coca-Cola, bottle always wins, whether it’s because of the nostalgia of sipping Coke through a straw from the slim, curved bottle, or the purity of the stuff without being tainted by metal or plastic. Does the same rule apply to beer? We asked Kirk Bodnar, beer consultant and certified cicerone, which is better for the hoppy brew.


Not all the bottles are created equal, brown bottles are much better than green, with clear being the worst at filtering out UV light. Bodnar says that all types of glass bottles can eventually let in enough light to create the dreaded "skunky" character in a beer, which happens when isohumulones, hop-derived molecules, are compromised and parts of these molecules bind with sulfur atoms (which is actually very similar to the chemical make-up of a skunk's natural defense mechanism). Cans, on the other hand, are completely impervious to light.


Another enemy of beer, oxygen, can also get into bottles from under the cap or cork and that can react with the beer, creating a stale, cardboard character.

“I often perceive this as a dull, old flavour, which is unfortunately common enough in some bottled imported beer that simply has travelled too long to get to our market,” says Bodnar.


There are exceptions. Some styles of beer benefit from the slow oxidation in the bottle and get better age. Very complex and high-alcohol beers, such as imperial stouts, barley wines and big Belgian Abbey ales, will actually taste amazing after a few years.

“The slight oxidation imparts a sherry-like character which adds complexity and is quite delicious. I actually have nearly 100 bottles of various styles suitable for aging in my cellar currently, some over five years old,” says Bodnar.

A few to try

We are starting to see more beers being canned, namely the aromatic beers, such as IPAs. Bodnar explains that the intense hoppy and aromatic characteristics of big West Coast IPAs are very delicate and can quickly dissipate. Cans help to preserve this hoppy character much longer than bottles.

Don’t believe us? Pick up a few of these and try them out for yourself.

Red Racer IPA (Central City Brewing)

Nickel Brook Headstock IPA (Better Bitters Brewing Co.) 

Mad Tom IPA (Muskoka Brewery) 

Grasshopper Wheat Ale (Big Rock Brewery)