What’s the Deal with BPA in Craft Beer Cans?

craft beer cansIt’s no surprise to anyone at this point that craft beer cans are decidedly back. Or in. Or popular. Or whatever. According to Tom Acitelli’s “Canned Mythology” article in the latest September 2013 issue of All About Beer, “The number of craft breweries canning at least some of their beers has increased at least 28,400 percent in the last decade.” Whoa.

But we’ve definitely seen our fair share of questions regarding the plastic lining inside the cans, though, which has been found to contain BPA, a synthetic compound that’s been banned from children’s toys, baby bottles, and water bottles due to studies that have linked the chemical to higher incidences of cancer, birth defects, diabetes, and fertility problems. Which begs the question: Is this a problem we should be worried about?

There’s no denying that cans have a lot of upsides: beer stays fresh because cans prevent both light and oxygen from getting to the beer inside, both of which can cause off flavors. They weigh less than bottles, which means shipping costs are reduced, and they’re much easier to haul to a barbecue or day at the beach.

But is the concern a valid one? The FDA has stated that trace amounts of BPA aren’t harmful — but is that really a good reason not to find an alternative that’s simply free from the chemical altogether? Bryan Greenhagen, founder of Mystic Brewery explains that he originally planned on canning, but decided not to because getting the optimal carbonation levels for the styles of beer he wanted to create wouldn’t be an option. Furthermore, he says, “On principle, we never let beer touch plastic in our process and upon researching cans we decided that it was very similar to bottling in a plastic bottle due to the lining. The BPA issue strongly affected this decision. We decided that we didn’t consider any type of plastic available truly food-safe by our standards. In our mission to make wholesome beer as beer was made for 5,000 years, plastic simply does not work with that philosophy.”

Greenhagen also sees the advantages of having beer in a can, and certainly doesn’t blame the beer buying public for wanting to buy them. He does say that Mystic is interested in pursuing and introducing viable alternatives that jive with all those summertime activities like boating, beaches, and hiking trails.

Acitelli’s article also touches on BPA, but not in much detail. It mentions that a Canadian study found “that aluminum cans allowed minuscule amounts of BPA to seep into beer, not enough to be unhealthy, suggesting that modern cans keep aluminum out of beer but that the lining keeping it out stays away, too. In fact, the same study showed higher amounts of BPA in some canned soft drinks like Diet 7Up and Mountain Dew than in canned beers.”

Perhaps no one is worried about minuscule amounts of BPA. But it’s hard not to wonder how long before minuscule amounts add up to a moderate amount. Chris Lohring, the founder of Notch Brewing Company, plans to can starting in August. “But we’ll also be keeping bottles for those who want the option, or may be concerned with BPA,” he says. “We think there are too many consumers who want an option to limit ourselves just to cans. I’d love to see a replacement, but not sure if we’ll see that soon. Maybe our vices have inherent risks, and we are willing to accept it?”

It’s a good point. As this post from Table Matters points out, the choice of whether or not to drink a beer that may or may not have trace amounts of a toxic substance is being put in the hands of the consumer. Yet the article still concludes it’s probably not worth worrying about. The bigger picture as to the environmental impact of mining bauxite to produce aluminum cans (which is the reason that Lagunitas still isn’t canning, according to Acitelli’s article), is a whole different can of worms.

So what do you think? Would you like to see a BPA-free alternative put in place for craft beer cans, since we’re clearly loving and drinking the living daylights out of them? Or is this something that’s not worth worrying about? Share your thoughts in the comments, yo!


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