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Bottles vs. Cans War Unfolds

The founder and president of Boston Beer Co., Jim Koch, has touched off a war of words when he released his Beer Drinker’s Bill of Rights, with one major tenent being that “Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.”

Not surprisingly, this declaration struck more than a few sensitive nerves among brewers, especially since canned beer has dominated the market in recent years, and a growing number of microbreweries have begun using cans because of improved technology that makes it cheaper and easier to package their craft beers. Not to mention Anheuser-Busch’s recent introduction of 12-ounce aluminum bottles that have been positively received by consumers.

''This is a 'Bill of Wrongs,' " said Dale Katechis, owner of Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colo., which sent a release across the country suggesting Koch had been kidnapped by aliens. ''Not only is the line about cans tasting like metal damaging to us, but it is also untrue."

Oskar Blues Brewery -- which sent a letter inviting Koch to taste its canned beer -- says aluminum gives beer longer shelf life, protects it from the destructive effects of light, and gets colder more quickly. As for a metallic flavor, can fans claim it is untrue because aluminum cans are lined with plastic to prevent any such after taste.

But Koch has rejected cans for his lead brew, Sam Adams, claiming he has rejected the packaging request from airlines, stadiums and golf courses, turning down millions of dollars in the process.

Although Koch concedes that aluminum cans are plastic lined, the taste problem occurs at the tab and lip of the can from where consumers drink the beer. This area of the can is not plastic lined, he added.

''I wouldn't have named my beer after a revolutionary if I was afraid of generating controversy over my principles," Koch said. ''I recognize others have different standards and may make compromises that I'm not willing to make."

This isn't the first time that Koch's marketing tactics have ruffled feathers of fellow brewers, according to a report in the Boston Globe. In the early 1990s, Sam Adams backed down from calling itself ''the Best Beer in America" after rivals accused the company of false advertising. These days Sam Adams calls itself ''America's World-Class Beer."

In the beginning, beer drinkers only had one choice: draft beer. But modern technology brought new packaging innovations, chiefly bottled beer in the 19th century, then canned brews in the 1930s.

And since beer makers switched to a water-based plastic coating for cans from a solvent-based one in the 1980s, studies have shown that there have been no detectable differences between canned and bottled beer, Ray Klimovitz, technical director of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas told the Boston Globe.

Over the last decade, the total volume of bottled beer sold grew about 35 percent, giving bottlers a bigger foothold in the industry, the Boston Globe reported. But in U.S. homes its popularity has fizzled with consumption dropping nearly 10 percent over the past four years, according to NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y., research firm.
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