Cans, Bottles, Or Draft? Seven Vietnam Craft Breweries Speak Up
This post is also available in: Vietnamese
In tropical countries like Vietnam the weather can have a powerful effect on your craft beer. After it leaves the fermenter what is the best way to store and ship your craft beer? Should local breweries be packaging their precious cargo into cans, bottles, or kegs headed to the tap?
In search of answers to this complicated question we reach out to seven Vietnam craft breweries to understand more about are the pros and cons of bottles, cans, and draft beer.
Vietnam craft breweries on the pros and cons of cans, bottles, and draft beer
When asked which of the three provides a better craft beer experience, everyone we spoke to agreed that draft beer is king, and for a variety of reasons. As a whole, Vietnam craft breweries like draft beer the best because it’s usually more fresh than cans or bottles.
Others added that drinking draft beer maximizes your sensory experience because kegs retain the taste and aromatic properties better than cans or bottles. This is partly due to the fact that kegs are delivered faster.
The pros of draft beer
Draft beer tends to be the freshest because it goes straight from the brewery to the bar,” says Platinum Beer’s head of operations Mark Comerton. The convenience and speed of delivering draft beer is much faster than cans or bottles, and undergoes less agitation.
“Drinking craft beer from a pint glass allows you to get the full experience. Unlike cans and bottles the aromatic properties are still intact and haven’t been affected by the sunlight,” remarks East West Brewing Company’s founder Loc Truong. Whether you beer is from the tap, a bottle, or can, it should always be poured into a glass to get the full profile.
“Better carbonation is another benefit of draft beer,” says Tobias Briffa from Tê Tê Craft Beer. However, if you are at a bar not owned by the brewery this might not be the case. Using dirty or bad quality CO2 will negatively affect the taste of your beer.
The cons of draft beer
“The only possible downside to draft beer is poor line maintenance. If a bar isn’t cleaning their lines regularly or stores the kegs at the wrong temperature many bad things can happen. Beer left out in the ambient heat of Asia can quickly turn bad,” warns John Pemberton from Heart of Darkness Brewery.
“Old beer will begin to build up in 2-4 weeks if lines are not properly taken care of. This can result in bacterial infections that are easily transferred into your glass of beer,” John adds.
Logistics is another thing to worry about, especially in tropical climates like Vietnam’s. “Ensuring your beer is cold-chained all the way from point A to point B can be a daunting task if another party is involved. And the high cost of cold-chaining paired with all the equipment needed to serve draft beer presents another obstacle. With cans or bottles you can simply rip and run,” Mischa Smith from Pasteur Street Brewing Company says as he cracks one open.
The pros of cans
Rooster Beers will release their own cans soon. When asked why they decided to go with cans, CEO Michael Sakkers explains that cans keep the product fresh for a longer amount of time. “This is because cans are impervious to sunlight. Too much exposure to sunlight during shipment causes unpleasant changes to the taste of your beer. We also took into account that cans are friendlier to the environment, cleaner, and cheaper.”
The obvious pros of cans is they are more convenient and smaller in size, don’t require any extra tools, and are much lighter than other containers. “You can stack them into your refrigerator, shove them into your backpack or cooler and head to the beach. Another plus is they get cold the fastest,” chuckles Mark from Platinum Beers.
When comparing cans to bottles many Vietnam craft breweries factored in sunlight as well as the seal. John Pemberton from Heart of Darkness Brewery even referred to it as the “eternal question”.
“Cans are actually the better small package if your product is going to be around for a long time. The can acts as a light barrier which is important because sunlight can destroy hop profiles. The canning process is also better in terms of oxygen pick up. However, this is not a major concern if a brewery has good bottling practices,” John remarks.
The cons of cans
For most craft breweries in Vietnam the pros of canning seem to outweigh the cons. After digging deeper into the topic Tê Tê Craft Beer, East West Brewing Company, and Platinum Beers all expressed concerns that consumers in the local market perceive cans as lower quality than bottles.
Another damaging misconception is that canned beer tastes metallic. Polymer coatings are always applied inside the can to avoid any interaction between the aluminum and the beer. The fact that 80% of taste is based on smell does not favor beer in this situation. Especially since cans often trap the aromatic properties of the beer inside.
An additional drawback of canning is the initial investment. If printing is involved there can be a fair amount of risk due to misprints or changes in a brand’s visual identity. “The initial investment for the brewery is large because cans need to be printed out in massive volumes,” explains Rooster Beers.
The pros of bottles
“Bottles are perceived to be higher quality than cans in Asia,” says Pemberton. Loc Truong from East West Brewing agrees and adds that “the beer pours better from bottles and also stays cold longer.”
For Tê Tê Craft Beer the benefits of bottles is all about the branding experience. “Bottling your beer creates a heightened product experience. If designed well they really catch the eye and customers love them,” says Tobias. Mischa Smith from Pasteur Street Brewing Company nods in agreement.
The cons of bottles
When asked about the cons of bottles most responses center around how light and oxygen can potentially have a negative effect on the taste of bottled beer. “Bottles are more to being damaged by exposure to sunlight than cans or draft. Not to mention they are less environmentally friendly,” Mischa elaborates.
Platinum Beers adds that “bottles are heavy and breakable, and if they aren’t bottled and sealed properly oxygen will contaminate your product.” Bottling is also expensive and difficult to control.
“However, unwanted oxygen pick up and exposure to sunlight can be avoided by implementing good bottling practices. You can turn your stock in six months. Thankfully we’ve learned how to do it in less than a couple of months so we are happy to be have our beer in bottles,” Heart Of Darkness clarifies.
The majority vote for draft beer reigns supreme. “I think there’s some element of connection to the others drinking around you. One way to think about it is you’re all sharing a keg of beer. It’s a very subtle connection, but I think it contributes to why draft is so popular. We’re all tapping into the same thing and sharing an environment to drink it in. That’s special,” Tim Scott from BiaCraft Artisan Ales concludes.