John Updike’s Paean To The Beer Can

beer-can-beer
Today is one of my favorite author’s birthdays, John Updike. He grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town that I did — Shillington — and we both escaped to a life of writing. Though I think you’ll agree he did rather better than I did with the writing thing, not that I’m complaining. I once wrote to him about a harebrained idea I had about writing updated Olinger stories from the perspective of the next generation (his Olinger Stories were a series of short tales set in Olinger, which was essentially his fictional name for Shillington). He wrote me back a nice note of encouragement on a hand-typed postcard that he signed, which today hangs in my office as a reminder and for inspiration. Anyway, this little gem he wrote for the The New Yorker in 1964 is a favorite of mine and I now post it each year in his honor. Enjoy.

Beer Can by John Updike

This seems to be an era of gratuitous inventions and negative improvements. Consider the beer can. It was beautiful — as beautiful as the clothespin, as inevitable as the wine bottle, as dignified and reassuring as the fire hydrant. A tranquil cylinder of delightfully resonant metal, it could be opened in an instant, requiring only the application of a handy gadget freely dispensed by every grocer. Who can forget the small, symmetrical thrill of those two triangular punctures, the dainty pfff, the little crest of suds that foamed eagerly in the exultation of release? Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shaped tab, which, after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole. However, we have discovered a way to thwart Progress, usually so unthwartable. Turn the beer can upside down and open the bottom. The bottom is still the way the top used to be. True, this operation gives the beer an unsettling jolt, and the sight of a consistently inverted beer can might make people edgy, not to say queasy. But the latter difficulty could be eliminated if manufacturers would design cans that looked the same whichever end was up, like playing cards. What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.

Now that’s writing. I especially like his allusion to the beauty of the clothespin as I am an unabashed lover of clothespins.

In case you’re not as old and curmudgeonly as me — and who is? — he’s talking about the transition to the pull-tab beer can (introduced between 1962-64) to replace the flat punch-top can that required you to punch two triangular holes in the top of the can in order to drink the beer and pour it in a glass.
pull-top-can punch-top-can
The pull-tab (at left) replaced the punch top (right).

Originally known as the Zip Top, Rusty Cans has an informative and entertaining history of them. Now you know why a lot of bottle openers still have that triangle-shaped punch on one end.
church-key

So essentially, he’s lamenting the death of the old style beer can which most people considered a pain to open and downright impossible should you be without the necessary church key opener. He is correct, however, that the newfangled suckers were sharp and did cut fingers and lips on occasion, even snapping off without opening from time to time. But you still have to laugh at the unwillingness to embrace change (and possibly progress) even though he was only 32 at the time; hardly a normally curmudgeonly age.

Beer In Ads #2218: Defeat And Victory


Friday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1941. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, two elderly gentleman are wearing suits, complete with vests and pocket watches, holding glasses of beer. They’re watching a football game on television, and it appears one of their fortunes has just changed. One of them is sunk low in his char, while the other smiling with his fist raised in cheer. “Defeat and victory … both grow sweeter with a glass of kindly beer or ale.” Ah, a “kindly” glass of beer. What exactly makes a beer kindly?

1941-PRINT-AD-UNITED-BREWERS-INDUSTRIAL-FOUNDATION

Beer In Ads #2217: The Moderation Hour


Thursday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1940. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, two men sit at a table, having a beer. The headline is great. “Good beer and ale in wholesome , modern taverns, offer Americans pleasant, inexpensive relaxation.” Also worth noting, they described the range of available beers as “sweet or dry, dark or light … take your choice.”

USBF-1940-moderation

Beer In Ads #2216: There’s Serenity In Beer & Ale


Wednesday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1941. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, two couples are having a picnic in the woods, with this great headline. “In a hurrying, scurrying world there’s serenity in beer and ale.” And I love how the pitch the need for “serenity” with this text. “YES! It’s a busy, dizzy world in which we live! And every man and woman in it needs now and then to get away from it all. Needs to sit down quietly and shut out the din and noise for a peaceful hour or so.” And naturally, they suggest drinking a beer during your time off. And I suppose every generation thinks their time is the busiest in human history, but I have to believe things were fairly slow in 1941 compared to now. And this ad was about four months before we entered World War 2. I have a hard time believing it was as hurrying and scurrying as they seemed to think.

USBF-Life-08-04-1941

Top 50 Breweries For 2016

ba
The Brewers Association has also just announced the top 50 breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2016, which this year they’re calling the “Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies.” This includes all breweries, regardless of size or any other definitions or parameters. Here is the new list:


Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies

Breweries in bold are considered to be “small and independent craft brewers” under the BA’s current definition. That there are so many footnotes (23 in total, or almost half of the list) explaining exceptions or reasons for the specific entry, seems illustrative of a growing problem with the definition of what is a craft brewery. I certainly understand the need for a trade group to have a clearly defined set of criteria for membership, but I think the current one is getting increasingly outdated again, and it’s only been a few years since the contentious debate that resulted in the current BA one. But it may be time to revisit that again.

six-glasses

Rank Brewing Company City State
1 Anheuser-Busch, Inc (a) Saint Louis MO
2 MillerCoors (b) Chicago IL
3 Pabst Brewing Co (c) Los Angeles CA
4 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
5 North American Breweries (d) Rochester NY
6 Boston Beer Co (e) Boston MA
7 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
8 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
9 Lagunitas Brewing Co (f) Petaluma CA
10 Craft Brew Alliance (g) Portland OR
11 Gambrinus (h) San Antonio TX
12 Duvel Moortgat (i) Paso Robles/Kansas City/Cooperstown CA/MO/NY
13 Ballast Point Brewing Co (j) San Diego CA
14 Bell’s Brewery, Inc (k) Comstock MI
15 Deschutes Brewery Bend OR
16 Founders Brewing Co (l) Grand Rapids MI
17 Stone Brewing Co Escondido CA
18 Oskar Blues Brewing
Holding Co
(m)
Longmont CO
19 Sapporo USA (n) La Crosse WI
20 Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn NY
21 Minhas Craft Brewery (o) Monroe WI
22 Artisanal Brewing Ventures (p) Downington/Lakewood PA/NY
23 Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Milton DE
24 SweetWater Brewing Co Atlanta GA
25 New Glarus Brewing Co New Glarus WI
26 Matt Brewing Co (q) Utica NY
27 Harpoon Brewery Boston MA
28 Alaskan Brewing Co Juneau AK
29 Abita Brewing Co Abita Springs LA
30 Great Lakes Brewing Co Cleveland OH
31 Anchor Brewing Co San Francisco CA
32 Stevens Point Brewery (r) Stevens Point WI
33 August Schell Brewing Co (s) New Ulm MN
33 Long Trail Brewing Co (t) Bridgewater Corners VT
35 Summit Brewing Co Saint Paul MN
36 Odell Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
37 Shipyard Brewing Co (u) Portland ME
38 Full Sail Brewing Co Hood River OR
39 Rogue Ales Newport OR
40 21st Amendment Brewery Bay Area CA
41 Flying Dog Brewery Frederick MD
42 Ninkasi Brewing Co Eugene OR
43 Gordon Biersch Brewing Co San Jose CA
44 Allagash Brewing Co Portland ME
45 Narragansett Brewing Co Providence RI
46 Green Flash Brewing Co (v) San Diego CA
47 Tröegs Brewing Co Hershey PA
48 Uinta Brewing Co Salt Lake City UT
49 Bear Republic Brewing Co Cloverdale CA
50 Pittsburgh Brewing Co (w) Pittsburgh PA

six-glasses


2016 Top 50 Overall U.S.
Brewing Companies Notes

Details from brand lists are illustrative and may not be exhaustive. Ownership stakes reflect
greater than 25% ownership:

(a) Anheuser-Busch, Inc includes 10 Barrel, Bass, Beck’s, Blue Point, Bud Light,
Budweiser, Breckenridge, Busch, Devils Backbone (partial year), Elysian, Four Peaks,
Golden Road, Goose Island, Karbach (partial year), King Cobra, Landshark, Michelob,
Natural Rolling Rock, Shock Top, Wild Series brands and Ziegenbock brands. Does not
include partially owned Coastal, Craft Brew Alliance, Fordham, Kona, Old Dominion,
Omission, Red Hook, and Widmer Brothers brands;
(b) MillerCoors includes A.C. Golden, Batch 19, Blue Moon, Colorado Native, Coors,
Hamms, Hop Valley (partial year), Icehouse, Keystone, Killian’s, Leinenkugel’s,
Mickey’s, Milwaukee’s Best, Miller, Olde English, Revolver (partial year), Saint Archer,
Steel Reserve, Tenth & Blake, and Terrapin (partial year) brands;
(c) Pabst Brewing Co includes Ballantine, Lone Star, Pabst, Pearl, Primo, Rainier, Schlitz
and Small Town brands;
(d) North American Breweries includes Dundee, Genesee, Labatt Lime, Mactarnahan’s,
Magic Hat, Portland and Pyramid brands as well as import volume;
(e) Boston Beer Co includes Alchemy & Science and Sam Adams brands. Does not include
Twisted Tea or Angry Orchard brands;
(f) Lagunitas Brewing Co ownership stake by Heineken;
(g) Craft Brew Alliance includes Kona, Omission, Red Hook and Widmer Brothers brands;
(h) Gambrinus includes BridgePort, Shiner and Trumer brands;
(i) Duvel Moortgat USA includes Boulevard, Firestone Walker, and Ommegang brands;
(j) Ballast Point Brewing Co owned by Constellation brands;
(k) Bell’s Brewery, Inc includes Bell’s and Upper Hand brands;
(l) Founders ownership stake by Mahou San Miguel;
(m) Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Co includes Cigar City, Perrin and Utah Brewers
Cooperative brands;
(n) Sapporo USA includes Sapporo and Sleeman brands as well as export volume;
(o) Minhas Craft Brewery includes Huber, Mountain Crest and Rhinelander brands as well as
export volume;
(p) Artisanal Brewing Ventures includes Victory and Southern Tier brands;
(q) Matt Brewing Co includes Flying Bison, Saranac and Utica Club brands;
(r) Stevens Point Brewery includes James Page and Point brands;
(s) August Schell Brewing Co includes Grain Belt and Schell’s brands;
(t) Long Trail Brewing Co includes Long Trail, Otter Creek, The Shed and Wolaver’s
brands;
(u) Shipyard Brewing Co includes Casco Bay, Sea Dog and Shipyard brands;
(v) Green Flash Brewing Co includes Alpine and Green Flash brands;
(w)Pittsburgh Brewing Co includes Iron City and Old German brands

BEER-generic

Here is this year’s press release.

Beer In Ads #2215: It Helps Support A Million Families


Tuesday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1939. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, another one not exactly subtle, the literal hand of “The Beer Industry” is holding up a giant beer tray filled with the million jobs the industry supports.

USBF-1939-employment

Beer In Ads #2214: Winter’s Bite Is Tempered By The Mellowness Of Beer And Ale


Monday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1942. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, a trio of people sit around a roaring fire trying to stay warm as “the winter wind pokes icy fingers at the window panes.” While it’s still technically winter for another week, most of us have already switched from the heavier winter ales to lighter spring beers, at least here in California. Though I hear this ad might make more sense in the northeast, which is apparently bracing itself for a massive snowstorm. So maybe they’ll soon need “the simple pleasure of such an evening [with] a glass of beer or ale.”

USBF-1942-winters-bite

Historic Beer Birthday: Joseph Priestley

oxygen
Today is the birthday of English scientist Joseph Priestley (March 13, 1733-February 6, 1804). While he was also a “clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and Liberal political theorist,” he’s perhaps best known for discovering oxygen (even though a few others lay claim to that honor). According to Wikipedia, “his early scientific interest was electricity, but he is remembered for his later work in chemistry, especially gases. He investigated the ‘fixed air’ (carbon dioxide) found in a layer above the liquid in beer brewery fermentation vats. Although known by different names at the time, he also discovered sulphur dioxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and silicon fluoride. Priestley is remembered for his invention of a way of making soda-water (1772), the pneumatic trough, and recognising that green plants in light released oxygen. His political opinions and support of the French Revolution, were unpopular. After his home and laboratory were set afire (1791), he sailed for America, arriving at New York on 4 Jun 1794

Priestley

In the biography of Priestley at the American Chemistry Society has a sidebar about his work with fermentation:

Bubbling Beverages

In 1767, Priestley was offered a ministry in Leeds, Englane, located near a brewery. This abundant and convenient source of “fixed air” — what we now know as carbon dioxide — from fermentation sparked his lifetime investigation into the chemistry of gases. He found a way to produce artificially what occurred naturally in beer and champagne: water containing the effervescence of carbon dioxide. The method earned the Royal Society’s coveted Copley Prize and was the precursor of the modern soft-drink industry.

Even Michael Jackson, in 1994, wrote about Priestley connection to the brewing industry.

“It has been suggested that the Yorkshire square system was developed with the help of Joseph Priestley who, in 1722, delivered a paper to the Royal Society on the absorption of gases in liquids. In addition to being a scientist, and later a political dissident, he was for a time the minister of a Unitarian church in Leeds. During that period he lived next to a brewery on a site that is now Tetley’s.”

ZIN42670

In the New World Encyclopedia, during his time in Leeds, it explains his work on carbonation.

Priestley’s house was next to a brewery, and he became fascinated with the layer of dense gas that hung over the giant vats of fermenting beer. His first experiments showed that the gas would extinguish lighted wood chips. He then noticed that the gas appeared to be heavier than normal air, as it remained in the vats and did not mix with the air in the room. The distinctive gas, which Priestley called “fixed air,” had already been discovered and named “mephitic air” by Joseph Black. It was, in fact, carbon dioxide. Priestley discovered a method of impregnating water with the carbon dioxide by placing a bowl of water above a vat of fermenting beer. The carbon dioxide soon became dissolved in the water to produce soda water, and Priestley found that the impregnated water developed a pleasant acidic taste. In 1773, he published an article on the carbonation of water (soda water), which won him the Royal Society’s Copley Medal and brought much attention to his scientific work.

He began to offer the treated water to friends as a refreshing drink. In 1772, Priestley published a paper entitled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air, in which he described a process of dripping sulfuric acid (or oil of vitriol as Priestley knew it) onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide and forcing the gas to dissolve by agitating a bowl of water in contact with the gas.

Joseph_Priestley

And here’s More About Priestley from the Birmingham Jewellry Quarter, whatever that is:

But his most important work was to be in the field of gases, which he called ‘airs’ (he would later chide James Keir for giving himself airs (oh dear!) by adopting the term ‘gases’ in his Dictionary of Chemistry, saying ‘I cannot help smiling at his new phraseology’). Living, as he did at the time, next to a brewery, he noticed that the gas given off from the fermenting vats drifted to the ground, implying that it was heavier than air. Moreover, he discovered that it extinguished lighted wood chips. He had discovered carbon dioxide, which he called ‘fixed air’. Devising a method of making the gas at home without brewing beer, he discovered that it produced a pleasant tangy taste when dissolved in water. By this invention of carbonated water, he had become the father of fizzy drinks!

PriestleyStamp

But perhaps my favorite retelling comes from the riveting History of Industrial Gases:

priestley-gases

The relevant findings were published in 1772, in Impregnating Water with Fixed Air

20. By this process may fixed air be given to wine, beer, and almost any liquor whatever: and when beer is become flat or dead, it will be revived by this means; but the delicate agreeable flavour, or acidulous taste communicated by the fixed air, and which is manifest in water, will hardly be perceived in wine, or other liquors which have much taste of their own.

PriestleyJoseph-Lab
Priestley’s apparatus for experimenting with ‘airs.’

Beer In Ads #2213: Suppose An Old Lady Talks For A Change!


Sunday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1942. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, which features the photo of an elderly woman, with the headline “Suppose An Old Lady Talks For A Change!” It will strike a discordant note to our modern notions of gender equality, but of course it was a different time and most likely didn’t ruffle many feathers in 1942, especially smack dab in the middle of World War Two. Read the whole thing at your peril, you have been warned. After laying out what a wife can, and should, do to support her husband and make his life more enjoyable after a hard day at work, she suggests. “I think it’s like that when it comes to beer and husbands and other grown ups. A man should be able to relax in at home in the way that he likes best … with a glass of mild and friendly beer, if that’s what he wants and enjoys. Served that way, by a wife’s own hand, beer is truly a beverage of moderation, as Nature intended it should be.”

ubif-1942-good-wife

Beer In Ads #2212: Mrs. Caruso … Twin Boys … Seven Pounds … Where’s That Beer?


Saturday’s ad is a trade ad, by the United States Brewing Industry Foundation, from 1941. After prohibition ended, the industry started doing PSA-type ads in an attempt to create goodwill for beer and brewers. They would later go on to do a fairly sophisticated series of ads between 1946 and 1956, known unofficially as Beer Belongs. Officially, they were “The Home Life in America” series, consisting of 120 ads, with a new ad running in major periodicals each month. Last year, for my Beer in Ads series, I featured every one of them. But in the years before that, the U.S. Brewing Industry Foundation (a precursor to the original Brewer’s Association) dabbled with a variety of similar ads promoting the industry as a whole. These were especially popular during World War 2, and in fact they even won an award from the government for some of these ads. Most of the ads were black and white, although a few were in color, though usually in a minimal way, with a few colors accented rather than being in full color.

In this ad, an old country doctor, just home from delivering twin boys, is removing his boots and yelling to, presumably, his wife, with the details of the birth. But then he also yells out “where’s that beer?” He sure looks like a kindly old doc, and it was a different time, but that still sounds so odd to hear.

USBIF-1941-mrs-caruso-twin-boys