What do you think? Does beer taste better from a bottle or from a can? Research, both controlled and anecdotal, suggests that most people would say that the same beer tastes better when it’s in a bottle versus when it’s in a can.
What accounts for this preference? Is there something about a can that construes a negative image in the mind of the consumer? Is there something about the shape, weight, or design of the packaging that influences their preferences? Does the metal of a can impart certain flavors that glass keeps purer? Does taste better from a bottle due to chemical and physical interactions within the packaging?
Last year, a study in the journal Beverages aimed to answer this question once and for all. There were three parts to this study.
62 people participated in this phase of the study. It was a short questionnaire, asking about various demographics such as age and gender, as well as two questions about their beer drinking habits. The first question asked how often they drank beer (the average was once a month), while the second question asked if they preferred beer from a bottle, can, or both (no preference/”it all tastes the same”).
151 people participated in this phase of the study. A little less than half of them were served beer from a bottle, while a little more than half of them were served beer from a can. (NOTE: it was the same beer from the same brewery, in different packaging).
Participants were shown the bottle or can and were told they could pick it up and examine it before tasting. Then, the researcher poured the beer out of the bottle or can into a plastic cup and it was served to the participants. This way, the researchers could control for potential confounding factors such as headspace, packaging weight, etc.
After tasting the beer, participants completed a questionnaire about several factors including demographics and participants’ evaluation of the beer.
To control for potential psychological influences of seeing the packaging before tasting, a blind taste test was performed.
29 people participated in this phase of the study. Each participant tasted two glasses of beer: one of which had been poured from a bottle, and the other of which had been poured from a can. Both beers were the same beer, in different packaging. The difference in this phase compared with the main part of the study was that the participants were not allowed to see the researchers pour the beers into the glasses. Participants were told nothing about the beer. After tasting, participants answered some questions about demographics and had to state which beer they preferred (if they even had a preference toward one or the other).
The results of the first questionnaire suggest that people have preconceived preferences for beer packaging types. The researchers found that 61.29% of participants preferred beer from a bottle, while 11.29% preferred beer from a can, and 27.42% thought they both tasted the same.
The results of the main test showed that participants rated the beer poured from the bottle as tasting better than the beer poured from the can. Perceived quality was also rated as higher in the beer coming from the bottle, but this result was only significant.
Since it’s possible the participants seeing the packaging could influence how they rated the beers, the blind tasting follow-up phase of the study was performed.
Results from the blind taste test – when participants had no knowledge about the beers or where they came from – showed that there were no preferences for bottled or canned beer, one way or another. 45% of participants rated the canned beer better than the bottled, 41% of participants rated the bottled beer better than the canned, and close to 1.5% said they both tasted the same.
(It is important to note that the demographics of participants from all three phases of the study were similar, indicating that comparisons between phases are justified).
The results of this study confirmed what was already known both in the literature and in casual conversations that people tend to prefer beer that is from a bottle compared with beer from a can. Even if the beer is poured into a “neutral” packaging type like a plastic cup to remove any potential confounding factors that the packaging itself might have on the results. People still preferred the beer from the bottle compared with beer from a can when they could see the original packaging format. What was most interesting was that when you take away any knowledge of the beer and what the original packaging format was, the preference for bottled over canned beer disappears. So, in essence, your preference for bottled beer over canned is likely all in your head.
There appears to be some psychological aspect about preconceived preferences for certain packaging types that influences consumer preference for beer, which is a concept well known to researchers and beer marketers alike.
With the rise in cans as a packaging format for beer (and wine, for that matter), marketers can use this study to help change the stigma of the can. At the end of the day, when the beer is poured into a glass, it all tastes the same regardless of whether it came from a bottle or a can. Of course, if you’re drinking the beer from the bottle or the can there may be other factors that come into play that could confound the issue and change consumer’s preferences. But, what this study shows is that the beer in the can is the same as the beer in the bottle and that what vessel you put it in isn’t going to alter its chemical composition and flavors.