Summit Suds: Are beer bottles or cans better?
The number of craft breweries distributing outside the taproom is growing each year. Beer aficionados have more choices than ever when browsing a grocery or liquor store. But aside from deciding on what type of beer they purchase, should consumers pay more attention to how the product is packaged?
Since 1997, the Dillon Dam Brewery has been bottling its beer to increase its distribution to the surrounding counties. The bar and restaurant packages three of its most popular beers — Sweet George’s Brown, Dam Straight Lager and Extra Pale Ale — in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles alongside specialty beers in 22-ounce bombers.
Head Brewer and Brewery Manager J.J. Miles wasn’t at the business when it started bottling, but he assumes glass was chosen because it was the norm for independent breweries at the time. Cans were seen as too mainstream and stereotypically suited for cheaper beer, especially since the equipment and materials needed for bottling was — and still is — more expensive.
“That’s why a lot of people have chosen to go the canning route, because it is a lot more streamlined,” Miles said.
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Pug Ryan’s Brewery went the canning route, shortly after Longmont’s Oskar Blues Brewery set the precedent for self-canned craft beer, and became the second in the state to do so.
People now can find Pug Ryan’s Pilsner, dunkel and helles in cans across the state. The brewery also sporadically cans seasonal and specialty beers like Hey Pocky Way imperial brut India pale ale and its Winter Black Lager, in addition to all of its sours.
John Jordan, co-owner and brewmaster of Pug Ryan’s since 2017, figures it costs roughly 27 cents to make one can, not including the beer, and has stuck with the tradition since there’s less overhead.
“I think a bottling line is at least twice as much new as a canning line would be,” Jordan said about the cost.
Jordan said the affordability of canning has made packaging a reality for even the smallest brewers.
“It does seem like the industry, with the less expensive canning lines and the ease of canning, has just opened up the market for almost any size brewery to package now, which is awesome,” Jordan said.
Rachel Zerowin, community programs director of High Country Conservation Center, agrees with the brewers that nothing is wrong with either packaging material since both are easily recyclable in Summit County.
“At the end of the day here in Summit County, we’re really lucky because buyers and markets want both of those materials,” Zerowin said. “One valley to the west, and the economics of transporting glass becomes less favorable just because it’s so heavy.”
Glass, which has to be dropped off at a recycling center or one of the new glass centers across the county, can’t be recycled in single-stream recycling. The product goes to the MillerCoors-owned Rocky Mountain Bottling Co., which turns it into a new bottle in about 30 days.
Aluminum is more desirable, fetching more money per ton than glass, according to Zerowin, and has a smaller emissions footprint because it is lighter. The aluminum is shipped out of the state and recycled in the country, taking about 60 days to become a new can.
However, a popular trend in canned beer is to use hard plastic carriers, such as PakTech CanCarriers, instead of the classic, clear plastic rings. While these colorful products are often made from recycled materials and can be reused to secure a new four- or six-pack, they can’t be recycled.
“End markets just don’t want them or can use them,” Zerowin said. “While it’s great that they’re made from recycled plastic, that kind of shows that plastic is downcycled, where as aluminum and glass are not.”
A more environmentally friendly option is to seek out the cans or bottles that use cardboard carriers.
“Like a cereal box, it’s recyclable in the cardboard dumpsters at the drop-off centers, or you can put it in your single-stream bin,” Zerowin said.
If you’re really concerned about the environment, there are better measures to take than only buying canned beer. Zerowin wants people to focus on one of the other Rs of the green mantra: reuse. Take a growler and fill it up locally rather than buy packaged beer from a store.
“It’s fresh, it’s always changing, it goes to the local economy, and it reduces waste,” she said. “You also get to meet people when you fill it up — all of the good things.”
Crowlers, though recyclable, aren’t has favorable since they only have one use. As for what material a growler should be made out of, Zerowin encourages people to go with whatever is the most durable and will last the longest. She noted, though, that tempered glass such as Pyrex can’t be recycled.
To make even more of an impact, carpool, bike or walk to the store or brewery.
“There’s lots of good ones in every town,” she said. “We’re lucky.”
Jefferson Geiger is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News and managing editor for Everything Summit. Have a question about beer? Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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