Bottle vs can: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a craft beer classic, if there can be such a thing. Having kick started the craft beer revolution, now you can find it in bars and shops across the UK. But shoppers face a dilemma: should I buy this beer in bottles or in cans? In this post, I taste them side by side to see which is best.

There’s a lot of beer out there. According to Untappd, drinkers checked in 49,000 unique beers between April and September last year – and that was during a pandemic, with many brewers operating at reduced capacity. Faced with so much choice, it’s a wonder we can figure out where to start.

To complicate matters further, Sierra Nevada gives us the additional dilemma: how do you want your beer packaged?

It’s not a trivial question. Fortunately, both serving styles are widely available in bottle shops and supermarkets across the UK. If you’ve ever eyed up Sierra Nevada Pale Ale wondering whether to pick up the can or the bottle, this is the blog post for you.

Packaging

Let’s start with what we can gather from the labels before we crack these beers open.

Both share the same branding, the same artwork, the same basic information. But there are a few, key differences in the specifications once you look closer.

The canned Pale Ale is 5.0% alcohol by volume. That leaves it a little weaker than the bottle, which weighs in at 5.6%. As a rule, I’d expect the bottled beer to be richer and more flavoursome as a result.

The bottle also comes plastered with the line, “This American craft beer is a living product”. That lets us know this beer is bottle-conditioned: there’s yeast in there putting the beer through secondary fermentation. To the delight of my inner CAMRA member, this beer is real ale.

Appearance

On pouring, these beers are pretty much indistinguishable. A rich, clear amber body with a fine, white head.

If I were forced to make a distinction, the head is perhaps a little looser from the can. But there’s no way I can guarantee that’s a result of the packaging and not minute differences in the pouring speed and angle. Instead, let’s focus on more important matters: how the beer smells.

Aroma

This is where we start to notice the real differences between the two beers.

Bottled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a beautifully balanced aroma. Bright grapefruit juice notes play above bready, toasty malt, supported by softer notes of pine resin and underripe nectarine. There’s a little carbonation smell, sure, but on the whole, this is a delicious smelling beer.

From the can, we get most of the same notes just…less so. The grapefruit is there, but it’s less juicy, less sweet. The malt is there, but a little weaker than in the bottle. It’s still a great smelling beer, but comparing the two side by side it falls slightly short.

Flavour

The story is similar when the beer hits the palate.

From the bottle, the flavour is malty, juicy, sweet and bitter. Above all else, this beer is smooth. The balance we noted on the aroma comes through even more strongly on the tongue.

The can is lovely too but, as with the aroma, it’s everything the bottled version has dialed down a notch. The grapefruit is there, but there’s less of it. It’s malty, but less so. And as a result, I’m left a little bit lacking.

But wait…

There’s another factor we need to consider here.

Let’s say I’m hosting a party with some friends. We have a great time, drink a few beers, and the next morning I have a big bag of empties to carry down to the recycling bin.

I would far rather be carrying a bag full of empty cans than bottles. The bottles are heavier, noisier, more awkward.

It’s the same story picking them up in the first place. Plus, if I drop one of the cans, the worst I have to worry about is too much head on my beer. If I drop one of the bottles, it’s game over.

The liquid in the bottle is better. If you want a couple of beers to reward yourself at the end of a long work week, definitely go for the bottle. But, honestly, if you’re taking these beers to a picnic or enjoying them on the beach, the can is a better shout.

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