Welcome to Ask Kate About Beer, in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If screw-cap bottles exist, why don’t all breweries use them? (They’re easier than searching for a bottle opener at tailgates.)
As someone who has spent a couple minutes asking other party guests for a bottle opener only to be told “Kate, it’s actually a twist off,” I too loathe the multiple cap options. Why not just make every bottle a screw cap if it’s easier, right?
Well, standard bottle caps have some advantages—not when it comes to convenience, though—over screw caps. Oh, and before some beer nerd corrects me in the comments, the preferred term for the cap atop a beer bottle is “crown,” but few normal people actually say that, so I’m going to stick with “cap” for the most part.
The main reason breweries don’t use twist-offs is because they’re not as reliable a seal. Neil Witte, draft beer quality ambassador for the Brewers Association, tells me screw caps don’t create as airtight of a closure, allowing more oxygen permeation. Oxygen is the enemy of fresh beer, so even tiny amounts of air sneaking into your bottle can eventually stale your beer.
In 2007, one of the largest craft breweries in the country, California’s Sierra Nevada, swapped its twist-off caps for the pry-off ones. They also added an oxygen-resistant bottle cap lining material that didn’t fit with screw caps, so the move was an upgrade in a few ways.
Then in 2012, Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing also switched to pry-off caps, and explained why in a blog post: “Pry-off caps are more effective at keeping out oxygen, one of the main enemies of maintaining excellent beer flavor. They also assist with maintaining correct carbonation levels throughout the recommended beer shelf life.”
The brewery acknowledged the change might be annoying for some consumers who weren’t used to needing a bottle opener for Boulevard’s beers, so it labeled its six-packs with reminders. But ultimately, customers got used to the new caps, and Boulevard hasn’t looked back at screw-tops since. (Portland, Maine-based Allagash Brewing brags that it’s never used a twist-off cap in its 23 years of beer-making.)
There’s also something psychological at work: Because mass-market breweries have long used twist-off caps, some beer consumers still associate them with the Bud-Miller-Coors of the world—and craft brewers want to signal that their products are different. (Canned beer was considered inferior once, too, though that reputation was unwarranted.)
Ultimately, if you’re making an effort to buy fresh beer, you probably won’t notice the minute amount of oxygen that seeps in under a twist-off can in a few weeks’ time. But some brewers don’t even want to chance it.