(NEXSTAR) – You can get it by the glass, the can, the growler or the keg. But for some reason, you can’t guzzle it from a plastic two-liter.
Beer — at least in the United States — is rarely sold in plastic bottles. The most common mediums are glass bottles and aluminum cans, with the exception of the occasional “drinkable ornament” around the holidays. (We’re looking at you, Miller Lite.) Plastic bottles, meanwhile, are rarely ever seen in the beer aisle, despite being widely embraced by the juice and soft-drink industries.
Why is that? Well, as it turns out, beer tends to lose its carbonation and become stale in plastic bottles, whereas soda does not.
“Plastic is simply not a good package for beer,” said Chuck Skypeck, the director of technical brewing projects at the Brewers Association. “The molecular structure of most plastics is not good at keeping carbonation in the package/product or keeping oxygen out to prevent staling.”
“Putting it another way, both cans and glass are superior packages in regards to delivering beer to consumers with the freshness and carbonation levels that brewer intends for the consumer to experience,” according to Skypeck.
Another reason has to do with cost. In addition to possibly going flat, beer is also more susceptible to going “skunky” if it’s not stored in a light-filtering bottle — and light-filtering plastic bottles just haven’t caught on yet. They may even be harder to recycle, and, in some cases, more expensive to produce than cans or glass bottles, according to Gizmodo.
Then again, it’s possible that the industry’s preference for glass and aluminum has less to do with the difficulties outlined above and more to do with aesthetics. According to Skypeck, many brewers tend to believe that plastic bottles are seen as an “inferior package” that may tarnish the perception of the beer.
“Using plastic packaging can damage a brewers’ brand image both from a quality perspective and a sustainability perspective,” he said. “I can’t think of many folks that want more plastic introduced into the environment.”
Of course, not everyone in the global brewing community sees eye-to-eye. In other parts of the world, certain beers are more commonly packaged in plastic bottles, including brands that traditionally only come in glass or aluminum in the U.S. And even in the U.S., many major breweries will package beer in plastic bottles for sale at sporting events, concert venues, or places where glass might not be allowed.
At the moment, however, beer aisles across the country are bubbling over with glass bottles and aluminum cans. And it’s likely to stay that way, unless the industry suddenly takes a cue from Franzia and starts selling their beer in a box.