Arbitrary Food Liquids

Arbitrary: Newcastle Brown Ale – cans vs. bottles

Newcastle Brown Ale in a can? Yep. Compared to glass, it's either better or worse.

Newcastle Brown Ale is one of my favourite beers. I love its amazing caramel notes, the crisp carbonation, the mineral profile, the balanced hops, the roasted malt, the light sweetness. On the rare occasions I watch soccer games on TV (a.k.a. football on the telly), it’s the default beer I reach for.

And yet, I’d never seen Newcastle in cans until I moved to Calgary. Instead of the gorgeous 550 mL glass bottles I’m used to, there, in a beer cooler at a shop near McMahon Stadium, was Newcastle in 500 mL cans. I bought it out of curiosity, then considered the implications on the train ride home.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was over-thinking it. Still, here’s my internal debate between Newcastle in cans and Newcastle in glass bottles.

Why I prefer the can:

  • Better protects the beer. Whatever your opinion of beer in cans, there’s no denying metal’s ability to protect beer from light. Newcastle’s choice of clear glass for their bottles, as cool as they look, is pretty stupid when it comes to protecting their beer. By the time it reaches Canada, is put on a shelf in a brightly lit cooler at a liquor store, is purchased then taken home, there’s a good chance the beer will be at least somewhat skunky. Not good.
  • Lighter. The bottles are heavy as hell, which makes them inconvenient to lug home from the liquor store. Same goes for lugging empties to the recycling depot.
  • Cost. For a 4-pack of 500 mL cans, it set me back $11.75. Considering the 550 mL bottles usually cost between $4 and $5 each, that’s a pretty significant savings.

Why I prefer the bottle:

  • The glass Newcastle bottle is iconic. Not to the same degree as the Coke bottle or the green glass Heineken bottle, but still. It’s distinctive, and I’ve got some sappy, illogical, emotional attachment to the design.
  • Perfect for re-use. Back in the days when I lovingly crafted my own home brew, I used to adore using 550 mL Newcastle bombers to bottle my own beer. They’re perfect for filling a Canadian pint glass, they’re tough enough to withstand repeated batches of brewing, and the clear glass makes it easier to tell one batch from another without having to affix labels.
  • Taste (sort of). Glass is flavour neutral, whereas cans … well … There’s lots of debate about this, but I’m not convinced cans are as neutral as glass, especially when a beer has to travel across an ocean and most of a continent to end up in my liquor store. There’s a reason why wine bottles are glass, not metal. And yet, the clear glass doesn’t do beer any favours – the skunky off-flavours (thanks, clear glass) mask other notes in the beer, so I’ve found myself tasting new notes (wood?) in the canned Newcastle that I missed when the off-flavours were present in the bottle.

3 Comments

  1. Hmm, haven’t had a Newcastle in awhile. However I just tried a nice B.C. beer that(if memory serves me)I’d compare favourably. That’s Longboat Chocolate Porter from Phillips Brewing….Phillips just recently available in Alberta. Fairly subdued chocolate & I thought very well balanced – 650ml bottle.;-)

    • I remember trying a Phillips brew in B.C. a couple years ago. Good stuff, if I remember correctly. I did a quick search, and apparently a shop in Kensington carries at least one of their bottles. I plan to investigate.

      More on their beers here: http://phillipsbeer.com

      Also, on my last trip back up to Edmonton, I visited the Sugarbowl (how could I *not* visit the Sugarbowl, I ask you?), which had Phillips beers on their featured brews chalkboard.

  2. The advantages and disadvantages of the clear bottle vs can debate were very well put. The missing comparison would be with a pulled pint in Newcastle from a fresh keg and that beer has quite a different taste to both. At home I’m much happier with the can, it’s more portable if you’re camping and seems to keep a more consistent taste. The bottle is subject to going skunky and it’s also too small. As to price, I was surprised to find, in California, I could buy a dozen cans for around $12 US. The LCBO certainly takes it’s toll.

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