I have had a bottle opener on my key chain since my senior year of college. I remember my first one fondly, it was a Yeugnling bottle opener that I got at a campus bar night. Being from New England, Yeungling was a new and exciting beer for me. It was the first beer I got to bring home to show my father and I had an awesome new key chain with the brand on it. Never mind that Yeungling gave me a bottle opener to use it on their twist off bottles. I loved America’s oldest brewery because it was new and exciting, and I didn't care that it bore the mark of a major brewery. It wasn't like I was drinking it for its craftiness. I had plenty of other beers to use that bottle opener on. That bottle opener lasted long after the logo had rubbed off. For the past 9 years it has been my key to Craft beer. I got it when I was the kid at college who like good (read: dark) beer and kept it through my move to New York about 3 years ago and became craft beer drinker. Whether it was Craft Beer or an import, there was always one constant in my beer drinking, prying a piece of metal off the hole of a glass bottle.
Imagine my confusion last year when I grabbed a Blue Point bottle that read "Craft Beer" on the label and "Twist Off" on the cap. I had always connected Craft Beers with pry off tops. Twist off caps were always the sign of mass market major brewery, but this was a small brewery that’s using the twist off caps. The question then becomes why do some breweries choose to use pry off caps while others use twist off?
The simplest and most frequent answer is "because of oxygen." We don't want air getting in and making our beer all flat and gross. It's obvious that all the major breweries don't care; they just want the quickest and easiest way to cap their bottles. They aren't Craft Brewers, they don't care about the flavor of their beer. Twist off caps are easier to get off, so they must be easier to put on. This makes sense to me, I can rationalize corporate greed over beer purity. I could probably even rally on that cause. I am a beer lover after all.
Something still doesn’t sit right though. You are going to be hard pressed to convince me that Blue Point doesn't care about their beer... yet they still have twist off caps.
So why choose pry off over twist off?
The oxygen debate is too simple. No brewery is going to use a cap with an inadequate seal. It’s obvious that twist off caps work, so is there a reason why Craft Breweries choose to use pry off caps? Ultimately this whole debate comes down to economics: pry off caps give them the best seal for the lowest price. It's cheaper to get a tighter seal with pry off caps then it is with twist off caps. The machinery used to make and adequate seal with a twist off cap isn’t cost effective for smaller breweries.
Sierra Nevada offers us the best insight on this topic. Being a Craft Brewery that switched from twist off to pry off in 2007, They studied the differences between twist off and pry off bottle caps for 12 years before making the move to pry off. They cited the seal as the reason they decided to switch, but didn’t blame this on the actual twisting part of the cap. In a letter they sent to a concerned customer, they outlined that after years of testing, they had found a new material that would create a better seal, keeping the beer fresher longer. However this material was too rigid to work properly with the twist off caps, prompting a switch to the new pry off caps. This is the only account I could find that actually stated that the pry off caps made a significant enough difference on the seal to make it worth switcing.
The majority of Craft Brewers still use pry off bottle caps, and I imagine it will stay that way. Even if all caps are created equal, something just doesn't feel right about taking a bottle cap off with my bare hands.