Wine In Beverage Cans Had A Rotten Egg Problem, Until Now

Aluminum beverage cans are used for all kinds of drinks, but when it comes to wine there are some glitches. Chief among them is the fact that canned wine occasionally smelled like rotten eggs. Thankfully, researchers have figured out why that happens, and how to stop it. How was this determined? As the image above hints at, lots and lots of samples and testing.

What causes this, and why don’t other beverages have this problem? Testing revealed that the single most important factor was the presence of molecular sulfur dioxide (SO2), a compound commonly used in winemaking as an antioxidant and antimicrobial.

It turns out that the thin plastic lining on the inside of beverage cans doesn’t fully stop molecular SO2 from reacting with the surrounding aluminum, creating hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the process. H2S has a very noticeable rotten egg smell, even in low concentrations.

Researchers discovered that if a canned beverage contained more than 0.5 ppm of molecular SO2, a noticeable increase in hydrogen sulfide was likely to be present within four to eight months. The problem is that since most wines aim for around 0.5 ppm of SO2, the average can on wine sitting on a shelf will have a problem sooner rather than later. The more SO2 in the wine (reds tend to contain less, whites more), the worse the problem.

Simply increasing the thickness of the plastic liner is an imperfect solution since it increases manufacturing costs as well as waste. So, researchers believe the right move is to use a more durable liner formulation combined with a lower SO2 concentration than winemakers are usually comfortable with. Unlike bottles, cans can be hermetically sealed which should offset the increased oxidation risk of using a lower concentration of SO2. The result should be wine as a canned beverage, with a shelf life of at least 8 months.

The research is published here and gives a great look at just how one approaches this kind of scientific problem, as well as highlighting just how interesting the humble aluminum beverage can really is.

70 thoughts on “Wine In Beverage Cans Had A Rotten Egg Problem, Until Now

  1. Perhaps move away from SO2 as a sterilizant and go on to other compounds to stabilize the wine. Sulfites are used traditionally but there are other options open to prevent that reaction with the can. Borates for example.

        1. I’m having a hard time imagining the target audience.

          Who drinks small portions of cheap wine? It’s neither enjoyable, nor does it get you drunk, unless you drink many, in which case you should have just bought the box or bottle.

          1. People who drink pop for supper, it doesn’t have to be a great wine every time you drink it, just a cheap wine you like with dinner and in a can because you don’t want to get drunk.

          2. Dennis: “By the way you guys, can I just say as a side note, I am loving this can-wine thing, I think it’s brilliant. I mean I’m active, I’m gesturing with my hands, and I don’t feel restricted. If I was holding a wine glass right now I’d be spilling wine all over the god damn place.”

    1. Yep. But the truly disgusting thing is modern wine production on its own.
      It’s a story about pesticides, synthetic aromas, acidulants etc.
      Long story short, the final product is a chemical cocktail of all sorts of things.
      Far from the traditional wine we used to know. Even expensive wine is being produced that way. The times in which untreated grapes were being stomped and then storred in a real wooden barrel are long gone, I’m afraid.

      1. I am a shareholder and volunteer in a near-biological vineyard (they need two more years of production before they can officially become biological). The only products used there are a pesticide made from stinging nettles, and some sulfates on the grapes, and some chalk to clear up the wine. Nothing else added. And I think most wines in Europe are made that way.

        1. In general, not anywhere.

          The frogs are desperate to save the VinOrdinair market.
          But they’re doomed.
          The rest of the world makes _much_ better cheap wine. Ask any French wino. Try it!
          Turns out dead flies are _not_ a key ingredient. Glass is an expense, box wine better…

          In the meantime the frogs will continue to throw anything at the wall, hoping something sticks.
          Dreaming of the 19th century, before ErkandJerk (E&J), out of G.D. Lodi kicked their butts.

          Even Australian wine only opens the sluice gates at one end these days!
          Indian wine? Still just awful though. Last seen at the dollar store, overpriced!

          That said, Rothschild Cadet red is a bargain the USA. It’s 20 euro+ across the pond. Under $10 in the USA. It’s worth the current product dumping price. Won’t get the frogs their market share back though. Was $6 five+ years ago. I should have bought more then.

          Also: Thank dog the French lie about the age of Brandy. Can you imagine actual Cognac that was 300 years in a barrel? Would taste like Creosote. Even honest XO would be undrinkable.
          Truth not a fan of barrel flavor, give me VS or, even better, Represado.

      1. Cork sniffing twits are idiots.

        When presented the cork you are supposed to check it for decay, not sniff it. Give it a gentile squeeze.

        People that sniff corks are poseur morons aping the behavior of other morons.
        Laugh at them!
        Point and laugh!

    2. Yeah, this is abominable. Glass is easier to recycle, better for the environment (although I’m sure they’ll try to approach this from a greenwashing angle anyway) and isn’t full of gross plastic linings and aluminum (that still leeches through the plastic? Hey bro I heard you like toxins so we put toxins in your toxins so you can have hormonal imbalances while you get cancer)

      Storing wine is an ancient solved problem

      1. Glass isn’t easier to recycle. It takes a f*ckton of energy to melt glass vs. aluminium.

        Glass is difficult to recycle because of the different varieties of glass, which get mixed up in the recycling stream and end up crushed together, at which point you can’t really do anything with the glass except use it for road filling or fiber insulation, because the quality of recycled glass is practically uncontrollable. Someone throws window glass in the collecting bin and it’s ruined for making bottles. Aluminum cans on the other hand are pretty much identical in material properties.

        1. Aluminum products always come in various alloys; I would think the biggest reason for it not to matter is that anything is better than the energy cost of starting from aluminum ore / oxide, which is way higher than recycling anything. I think they even use two different alloys for the tops versus the sides of the cans, meaning you are guaranteed to need to adjust the composition when reusing the metal. And I have to figure that any air and water left trapped in the cans, along with the lining and paint and such, will mean that melting cans has unavoidable loss of metal.

          Glass, on the other hand, can be *reused* indefinitely, especially if it’s something like a jar. After that it’s still awfully hard to get confused about whether a bottle is a window or a window is a bottle if you’ve got a collection bin that says bottles. By all accounts, recycling bottles can work almost perfectly when basic measures are taken, such as I’ve heard are common in western Europe. And I know in the past, returning bottles to be cleaned and reused was common with e.g. milk; it’s not just a thing to do at home.

  2. I saw wine in a 12oz can at a place and lemme tell the doubters. I bought and enjoyed that wine and it didn’t taste like rotten eggs. It tasted like wine.
    It’s perfect for poolside, beach, flying an airplane or anywhere where you do not want glass.

    1. Agreed, camping and bivouacking need this: glass is heavy and pose some danger.
      Single serve can red wine are hard to come by, quality is so-so, but so enjoyable in such remote situation.

          1. You need to drink it all, in a short time. This is common advice from companies selling hip flasks.

            Or, make a glass shaped can with a honeycomb hole-punched metal inside it. Gorilla glass, maybe.

    2. I like a Camelback for flying but I wear it like a Snuggli so I can still get the full seat experience. And how awkward is it to drop the glass that steadies the hand that does the delicate surgery? Camelback! Stay on the stick, baby, stay on the stick!

    1. Nope. Contrary to popular belief, thin plastic lined cans are more environmentally friendly than glass bottles. That is because glass takes humungous amounts of energy to recycle (about 3-5 times as much as aluminium) and a bottle of wine weighs about 15 times as much as a can for the same volume of wine, ánd stores less efficient than cans, meaning higher transport costs.

        1. >They could simply be washed/desinfected and re-used, just like dishes.

          They were, but the whole system was inefficient and pretty toxic. You needed boiling concentrated lye water to dissolve away all the stuff that people put into bottles, such as cigarette stumps, weird chemicals, and even dead mice that crawl in and get stuck there. The reason for the harsh chemicals was that the whole process has to run at a pace of thousands of bottles an hour, in and out like a machine gun to keep up with demand.

          Then the next problem is, you’ve got this waste sludge of caustic chemicals with all sorts of stuff dissolved in it – what do you do with that? It was very energy-intensive, not actually so nice to the environment, and a logistics nightmare because empty bottles are 99% air. You’re wasting diesel transporting nothing.

      1. the one benefit glass has ecologically over Aluminum is that glass is almost completely inert when disposed of in landfills (or ditches I suppose)
        Aluminum’s side benefit is that it could be used to generate H2 before the oxidized Aluminum is shipped back to be processed like the bauxite it orginally came from

        1. Single use metal batteries were considered at one point for powering electric cars, exactly by generating hydrogen. Zinc and aluminum are both good materials for that, but recycling them back from the oxides requires reliable and very cheap electricity by the gigawatt, because they’re reduced by molten electrolysis, so it’s only really done in a few places where you have tons of cheap hydroelectric or nuclear power.

          It’s a process that won’t run by wind or solar because it takes a lot of energy just to get the process started. If the power source goes away then you’re left with a big hunk of solid slag that won’t conduct electricity anymore, so you have to blast it apart with explosives and start over.

        1. Of course there are, but if the insistence is on zero carbon, then generating H via Aluminum reaction is probably more efficient than using steel cylinders, or electrolysis. It would also be a tad more controllable for running a fuel cell. If your goal is zero carbon, then you will have to accept inefficiencies in the system. If you want efficiency above all else, then you will need to accept Carbon emissions. In time there may be a tech that will give both, but I expect it will spew ionizing radiation instead

  3. In many countries there is a demand for low-cost fruit wine, most commonly consumed by university students and alcoholics. It’s not aged, it’s not fine but it gets the job done when you want to get drunk. Replacing glass bottles with cans could optimize its cost and make it more affordable to most economically vulnerable classes of society.

    I remember drinking wine packed in plastic bag (like milk) in 2009, but I haven’t seen it in years. Fun stuff and sometimes led to stained clothes.

      1. I remember when sugar was 50 cents a bag. A kilo would make you 4-5 liters of decent student wine, also known as pruno in some other parts of the world.

        Access to alcohol has never been about the price of the container.

        1. Better then bottles.
          Wine in a box lasts _weeks_ open in the fridge. No air in the container.
          Best way to do the 1 glass of red a day with dinner thing. You do want to let it warm up and breath.

          The high end of box wine isn’t bad at all.

  4. If you want a decent wine that has not been adulterated with chemicals, buy local and confirm with the farmer / grower that it’s legit. I’m trialing Dead Rat Apple Wine this year in the Dead Rat Cider factory. Unfortunately it seems to have stopped fermenting at ABV 1024, but I’ll give it a bit more time. It’s certainly not going into an aluminum can and has not additives (other than the rat).

          1. Paste this into ChatGPT:
            “Can the addition of protein aid fermentation in cider production?”:


            Yes, the addition of protein can aid fermentation in cider production in several ways:

            Yeast Nutrient: Yeast requires nitrogen for growth and protein synthesis. While sugars naturally present in fruits provide some nitrogen, additional sources like yeast-available nitrogen (YAN) from proteins can improve yeast health and fermentation efficiency. Having enough YAN ensures the yeast can focus its energy on converting sugars to alcohol rather than struggling to meet its own nitrogen needs.

            Enzyme Precursor: Some proteins act as precursors for enzymes that break down complex sugars into simpler fermentable sugars. This can enhance the utilization of all available sugars by yeast, which can lead to a more complete fermentation and higher alcohol content.

            Reduced Astringency: Apples contain tannins, which contribute to the astringency or dryness of cider. Proteins can bind with tannins, softening their effect and leading to a smoother and more palatable final product.

            However, it’s important to note that the type and amount of protein added can significantly impact fermentation. Too much protein can rob the must (unfermented cider) of oxygen needed by yeast in the early stages of fermentation. Additionally, the type of protein can influence the taste and aroma of the cider.

            In conclusion, protein addition can be a beneficial tool for cider makers, but careful consideration of protein type and quantity is necessary to achieve optimal fermentation results. Consulting with experienced cider makers or researching best practices for your specific cider recipe is recommended.

          2. The old moonshiners knew this as a trick to get their mash working faster. It was rumored (per my Dad who got it from his older friends who were drinkers during prohibition) that the moonshiners would pick up recent road kill since that was less noticeable than buying a sheep.
            The English have rumors about sheep being used in their hard cider vats by the way.

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