You finish up your evening shift in the office, sprint to your car to enjoy the tedious commute and stop by your local pub just in time for the weekend. The regulars are enjoying themselves, karaoke is about to start, but none-the-less, that guy is there. The guy asking for a pint of crafty-x on draft because bottled beer “Doesn’t sit well with my stomach,” or the opposite, he can’t drink canned beer because it just doesn’t taste as good.
We’ve all heard it, but are any of these thoughts actually true? Or do these recurring, happy-hour themes manifest from somewhere other than a regular’s fruitful mind?
In a market where craft is certainly mainstream and options are endless, draft beer has somewhat always been known for being the best option. It’s crisp, carbonated bite and frothy, foamy head sits perfect in a pint glass, but does that mean it’s truly the best option in a market filled with endless brands in cans and bottles?
The answer: Kind of.
Draft beer still dawns the top-tier of fresh the consumer deserves. If on-premise retailers are moving draft beer faster than a bottle or canned beer, it should be a fresher product. Kegs also hold carbonation with a tight seal and prevent oxygenation relatively well, creating a space for fresh beer to last.
Asking questions about whether draft is better than a canned product is relative: How an establishment serves the beer, how the beer is stored, what kind of glass it’s served in and even beer style should be factored in.
IPA’s remain the nations most popular style and generally find themselves staying the freshest on draft due to the shorter shelf-life of flavor profiles created by hops. It’s also important to note that some breweries have more offerings on draft over packaged products and some smaller breweries don’t offer any cans or bottles, sticking to a local footprint of draft-only brands. This is typical of hyper-local breweries catering to trending retailers with a plethora of taps (Hence, gravitating toward “The impressive draft list” found at more and more retailers these days.)
From a brand-importance mindset in an on-premise establishment, offering draft tends to show greater appreciation and importance to a beer over a can or bottle offering, generally leading to higher volume and more sales.
Cans have an argument to be better for beer over bottles; offering a cleaner seal to prevent oxygenation, preventing any light from scourging the liquid and preventing skunking and prolonging shelf life. We’ve also seen the trend toward cans over bottles in microbreweries over the last 5 years. There also tends to be more room for branding and printing shrink-wrap sleeves or direct-on-aluminum is generally more vibrant and appealing to the customer.
Six-pack bottle carriers are appealing, but create a larger environmental footprint and more cost to the brewery. Marketing and branding are king in the craft-beer world, so what would you do if you wanted to sell the most beer, for the smallest cost, to the largest audience? We aren’t saying bottles are dead, since a majority of import-beers are sold in bottles and create a large market segment, but for the local microbrewery, it’s obvious cans are where the market sits.
Bottles can have an advantage when it comes to style. Bottle-conditioned beers from Belgium or France are often or only found in glass. The old-school train of thought leans toward bottles offering a cleaner, fresh product over cans, but that theory is behind us. Cans are mainstream and offered in bulk just as any bottle and because of the protection from light, usually pour a more consistent product.
Whether the answer is absolute or not, craft beer has grown past the simple offerings of glass-bottle six-packs. Innovation in packaging is growing and the consumer is asking for the next best vessel, it just depends on who catches the right shape at the right time.