Although I've recently moved into an apartment with three ceiling fans, seven windows, and a bedroom door, I do not consider myself a wealthy man. But every Thursday, my wife comes into a little bit of money, and if I time the transaction just right, I can occasionally buy something useful before she blows it all on bullshit like rent and dentistry. This is why I got up early yesterday to window-shop for a kegerator.
I thought better of it for the same reason most of us never get around to buying Corvettes and season tickets and all the other awesome things we covet when we're 15: By the time you can afford the really cool shit, you're too smart (or lame) to buy it. But I did linger on the fantasy long enough to start considering the relative strengths and weaknesses of the most common beer-delivery systems.
In-home draft-beer rigs (or kegs plopped in buckets of ice) are reasonable when you're a post-teen animal living in beautiful drunken filth, but they become impractical once you finally accumulate more forks than roommates. A one- or two-person household could go through a 1/6th-barrel keg before it went bad, but after the first dozen pints, it would feel more like a chore than a party; you'd be simultaneously sick of drinking the same beer every day and anxious about wasting any of it.
Drinking draft beer at a bar is a better way to go, but it also has significant drawbacks. Whereas the home-kegger suffers from lack of diversity, most bars have TOO MANY options. Every middlebrow after-work bar in my neighborhood has at least a dozen drafts, of which maybe four move fast enough to ensure freshness. A lot of factors affect how long a tapped keg stays fresh, including storage temperature and beer style (the good stuff tends to go off faster), but a fair guideline is that high-born beer begins to degrade within a week of tapping and shouldn't be served by an honest bar after more than a three weeks. And even the freshest beer can't overpower a dirty draft line.
But draft beer at a bar is still a pretty good time. The serving size is usually more than that of a 12-ounce bottle, though many bars forget that "pint" refers to the volume of a glass, not its shape. You have every right to sell me whatever size beer you choose, but it's a cheap trick to pour 13 ounces into a thick-bottomed cheater.
But back to the good time promised above. A benevolent bar that isn't trying to rip you off with sleight-of-glassware games will often let you order a half-pint, which lets you try more things and/or lie to yourself about how much you intend to drink. Either way, it's a freedom. And sometimes, you end up at one of those German places with giant liter mugs; the beer's often bad, and it's always more than you need at one go, but damn are those steins cool and worth it.
I'm deeply conflicted about the 64-ounce takeaway jugs you get straight from the brewery. First of all, I can't decide if "growler" is the best or worst possible name for this vessel, but it's certainly one or the other. Price is another confounding factor: I regularly pay $10 plus oh by the way a deposit for four pints of excellent, fresh beer at the brewpub up the road, which would be a great deal if I didn't always toss on a 30 percent idiot tax by never returning the bottle. The reason I had to move to this palatial, separate-bedroomed apartment? To accommodate the full-scale Growler Stonehenge that I can't bring myself to throw away because YOU NEVER KNOW. But once other factors are accounted for, growlers still grade out as good beer containers because they almost always contain good beer.
A lot of people like to drink out of bottles because of the perceived cleanliness factor: At a scummy bar, a bottled beer is probably less contaminated than anything served in a glass. And for the home-drinker, bottled beer has the advantage of staying cold longer than aluminum-canned beer does, because glass is a less efficient conductor of the heat from your hand. Bottles also come with serious downsides, though. Clear and green bottles don't block enough UV light to protect the beer, which is one reason why Corona and Heineken suck. And while the brown bottles employed by better brewers do a pretty good job with the light, they're still just as heavy, breakable, and hard to stack as the see-through models.
Cans have the following things going for them, relative to bottles: They weigh less, which makes them cheaper for the producer to ship and easier for the consumer to carry. They are better than even dark glass at blocking UV light. They are excellent at combating beer's other natural enemy, exposure to air (arguably better than bottles, but I couldn't find conclusive research, so let's call it a draw). They are the ideal container for drinking in showers and on boats and also for camping, probably, if you're into that. If you're a bad kid, you can smoke drugs out of them.
Cans have the following things going against them, relative to bottles: They are harder to effectively weaponize. And due to aforementioned thermal conductivity issues, they are less suited to a long day of slow drinking in a hot room. And most damning, your dad thinks they're not as good.
Your dad is a good guy, but he needs to get over his anti-can prejudice, which was indeed valid back before can-liner technology got up to snuff. Inferior first-generation liners could degrade enough to affect the beer's flavor. (This is the same reason many old-timers have draft-beer aversions, kegs being nothing more than giant beer cans.) But modern liners only break down when superheated for recycling; the only reason to avoid them is if you're deathly afraid of BPA, which, OK, your prerogative, but alcohol is poison, too, so let's all be reasonable about this.
Your dad's bias was still justified, in a roundabout way, even after we got better at manufacturing cans: For far too long, no one put decent beer in cans, so it was still rational, if wrong, to blame the messenger. But the tide is turning toward cans, as high-end brewers begin to tip-toe down the trail blazed by craft-can pioneer Oskar Blues, which has been all-aluminum since its 2002 inception. Alchemist's Heady Topper, the Vermont cult double-IPA that many drinkers consider the world's finest beer, comes exclusively in cans. Large-scale craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams are now canning, and well-regarded smaller outfits like 21st Amendment and Surly avoid glass almost altogether.
Beer is a beverage of pleasure, and I would never presume to tell any given person what tastes better on his or her tongue. If you like bottles, drink bottles. But don't be afraid to try a craft can, and maybe even pick up for a sixer for the old man, and see if you can't come around to accepting that the aluminum can is the world's finest beer container.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain
Image by Sam Woolley; source photos via Shutterstock.
The Concourse is Deadspin's home for culture/food/whatever coverage. Follow us on Twitter:@DSconcourse.