One of the things I really wanted to do for this year’s Canned Beer Week was something I haven’t seen done anywhere else: a side-by-side comparison of the same beer, in a bottle versus a can. Think of it as a “lateral tasting” (as opposed to “vertical tasting” of different vintages)—and thanks to several large breweries that are now offering some of their beers in cans as well as bottles, it’s doable.
Two such breweries have beers that are available to me locally: New Belgium Brewing and Big Sky Brewing. New Belgium recently began offering Fat Tire Amber Ale in cans, and Big Sky has two: Moose Drool and Trout Slayer. The easiest one for me to get together this week was Moose Drool, their flagship Brown Ale that is Montana’s number one craft beer.
Here we are. Bottle vs. can, the same beer, both labeled 5.1% alcohol by volume, both American Brown Ales. Any predictions on the outcome—are they the same? Is one better? Which one? Any can versus bottle prejudice?
Here’s how I’ll present my review: broken up like I normally do (Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel), and for each section I’ll list bottle notes first, then can. I wrote my notes concurrently in this manner, with the notion that the bottled version is the “baseline” (as it’s more commonly available and what the beer is expected to be like).
Bottle: Clear and brown with ruby garnet highlights, topped by a thick and creamy head. The head from the bottle is noticeably thicker and lasts longer than from the can.
Can: Slightly (but noticeably) darker brown, you can’t see through it as well; the head started big but fell quicker than the bottled.
Bottle: Roasty chocolate malts with a touch of roast astringency; light-roast coffee.
Can: Rich and chocolatey, deeper aroma than the bottled; a touch of coffee and some brown sugar richness.
Bottle: Roasted malts—slightly dry with a light character. A touch of chocolate, a touch of weak coffee, some caramel crystal malts hiding in there.
Can: Roasted malts with a creamier presence and not as astringent. Rich with slightly dry brown malt character. Coffee touch with toffee maybe, with chocolate more pronounced than the bottled.
Bottle: Lighter than medium-bodied, thin on the tongue and finishes fairly dry.
Can: Medium-bodied, thicker with more presence, fuller body; finishes a bit sweeter.
Bottle: Decent brown ale but thinner than I’d like.
Can: The better of the two. Thicker, sweeter, and richer; definitely the one I would pick in a blind taste test.
Surprised? So was I, a little. I was willing to give the canned version the edge going in simply because it wouldn’t have the possibility of being lightstruck, but generally I was expecting the two beers to be about equal. Nonetheless, there is a noticeable difference between the two.
Can this be attributed to an advantage of being packaged in a can alone? I don’t know. It’s just as possible they were brewed on two separate systems—Big Sky is a fairly large operation, after all. But I think it pretty well demolishes the idea that bottles are somehow superior to cans—they both have their advantages and disadvantages, but with results like this, you can’t deny that canned is just as good, if not better.