On Thursday, in a post I wrote about Nickel Brook’s Naughty Neighbour coming to can format, I offered up a bit of my own opinion along with the news.
In addition to a tangent about unions and my excitement that a great session ale was coming to a larger format, I offered up my two cents on why I prefer beer in cans over bottles. Among the insightful, humorous, and signature delightfully entertaining points I made in that post were my observations that cans offer the best protection against both light and oxygen and therefore offer the freshest possible means to enjoy a beer.
Today, in response to my points, I received an email from Sybil Taylor, who is the Communications Director of Steam Whistle Brewing. Incidentally, she’s also married to one of the guys listed as a co-founder and she was the brewery’s first official employee. Sybil took some issue with my assertion that bottles can’t offer as fresh a beer, notably given Steam Whistle’s particular attention to detail in this area. In order to present both sides of this argument, with Sybil’s permission, I’ve opted publish the email she sent me.
I wanted to write to set the record straight on this fact – at least as far as Steam Whistle is concerned. I’m not certain if what I’ll explain is the same for other brewers but in our case, our bottles do probably offer the best form of beer packaging out there. Our cans would run a very tight second.
We’ve invested in Krones state-of-the-art fillers for both our canning and bottling lines. They are essentially the “Mercedes” of beer equipment and we’ve invested this way to help preserve the good work done by Marek [Mikunda, Steam Whistle’s Brew Master — BJ] and his team in the Brewhouse and cellars. Our beer sits in Bright Beer Tank after filtration with about 10 parts per billion oxygen (oxygen being the evil-doer in terms of food/beverage spoilage, or at least deteriorated taste and shelf life), so virtually oxygen-free.
When we bottle our beer, we run around 14 parts per billion oxygen on average, which is downright remarkable. Krones uses a double evacuation process, blasting C02 into the bottle twice to flush out any air/oxygen before the beer is filled, and then we fob with a sterilized tiny stream of hot water to cause the beer to bubble up out of the bottle top, pushing any air out of the headspace in the bottle split-seconds before capping. This fobbing creates negative pressure and thus the vacuum “pop” sound you hear when you uncap a bottle of beer. Our heavy-duty signature green glass bottle allows us to crimp the cap very hard down onto the bottle rim, thus offering a superior seal. We probably err more on the side of too tight a crimp, rather than too loose. Then we pack our bottles in an enclosed beer carton (unlike many imports in an open basket carrier)[Take that, Corona! — BJ] to protect our beer from UV light.
When we can our beer, we run around 30 parts per billion in oxygen, which is still exceptionally good (our quality assurance team tells me that you won’t begin to run into issues with oxygen until about 100 ppb). Because cans arrive at any brewery as an open-top cylinder, this wide-mouth package always lets a little more oxygen into the headspace at point of filling, even with the Krones pre-filling CO2 evacuation and fobbing. Such a large top lets more air in, it’s unavoidable. But you are correct that once it goes through the seamer, a can has a really tight seal, and it is a solid package wall so [it is] free from UV light damage which will help downstream.
I want to emphasize that other brewers may not have the same results we do as far as oxygen PPB. The sophistication as well as the speed of the packaging lines would have a big impact on this and I’m very certain that we would stand out as far as our quality assurance initiatives.
I hope this information helps to shed some light on the issue [. . .]
Sybil Taylor, Communications Director
Steam Whistle Brewing