John Updike’s Paean To The Beer Can

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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.
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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.
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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.

The Next Session Asks: Cans Or Bottles?

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For the 98th Session, our host is Nathan Pierce, who writes the blog for Microbrewr. He’s asking us all to weigh in on what’s better, what you prefer, and/or what’s the deal with “Cans or Bottles?” Essentially he wants to know your take on the packaging wars. Alright, maybe not a war, more like a friendly debate. Fingers crossed.

A bottling line or a canning line is a substantial financial investment. So this question is a significant consideration to anyone starting a brewery.

The answers give great insight. However, one thing I see lacking from the discussion is solid data.

Of course aluminum can manufacturers and glass bottle manufacturers each have an interest in showing their packaging is best. I have heard a lot of arguments on both sides, even data and statistics, but I haven’t heard many references from third-party studies. If you can offer this, that would be a great help.

In any case, I’m looking forward to reading the answers not only to see where the consumer trends are going, but also as research for the brewery I dream of opening.

What’s your perspective?

Will you write from the consumer point of view? From which kind of packaging do you prefer to drink beer? Why do you prefer that packaging?

Will you write from a manufacturer perspective? How do you want your brand portrayed? Which packaging suits your beer best?

Will you write from a distributors perspective? Which packaging do you prefer to transport and stock at retail locations?

Some other insight?

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So pop a cap or pull a tab, and decide which one you like better. Then to participate in the April Session, leave a comment to the original announcement on or before Friday, April 3.

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Patent No. 4255457A: Method And Apparatus For Preventing Buckle Of Beer Cans During Pasteurization

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Today in 1981, US Patent 4255457 A was issued, an invention of George J. Collias, assigned to the Kepros-Ganes Company, for his “Method and Apparatus for Preventing Buckle of Beer Cans During Pasteurization.” Here’s the Abstract:

A method is described for preventing buckling of beer-can tops and bottoms during pasteurization of the beer. Prior to the pasteurization, an anti-buckle ring is mated with each beer can such that the ring captures the base portion of the can’s bottom. The ring permits the bottom’s panel to bulge outwardly while preventing radial displacement of the bottom’s base area and, hence, buckling of the can bottom, when the heat applied during pasteurization causes the internal pressure of the can to increase. To prevent buckle of the beer can’s top, another anti-buckle ring may be mated with the top of the can such that the latter ring captures the double-seam area on the top of the can to prevent radial displacement at key points of the top. After pasteurization, both rings are automatically removed from the can for use with another can.

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Patent No. 2109489A: Liquid Filling Machine

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Today in 1938, US Patent 2109489 A was issued, an invention of John Daniel Le Frank, assigned to the American Can Co., for his “Liquid Filling Machine.” There’s no Abstract, but the description states that the “present invention relates to a machine for filling cans with liquids that have a tendency to foam and has particular reference to devices which minimize foaming of the liquid passing into a can, passages in the devices being automatically purged of any foam which may have accumulated during the filling of a preceding can.”
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Patent No. D162082S: Combination Can And Bottle Opener

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Today in 1951, US Patent D162082 S was issued, an invention of Carl G. Preis, for his “Combination Can and Bottle Opener.” There’s no Abstract, but the rather short application states simply that Preis has “invented a new, original, and ornamental Design for a Combination Can and Bottle Opener.”
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Patent No. 20110036840A1: Ring Pull Can Cap

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Today in 2011, US Patent 20110036840 A1 was issued, an invention of Tal Zakai, for his “Ring Pull Can Cap.” Here’s the Abstract:

The present innovation is a dual purpose “ring-pull/can cap”, which performs as both a sealing cap for metal beverage cans in addition to its traditional usage as a can opener. The design is a modification of the U.S. Pat. No. 3,967,752 “easy open wall”, which is the current opening mechanism on most consumer beverage cans, also known in the industry as an “easy open end”. The “ring-pull/can cap” is an improvement of the well known ring-pull design found on most metal cans today, but also allows consumers to close and seal off the can when not in use.

There are two popular opening methods that have been used for opening metal cans to date: The “full open” mechanism and the more recent “half open” mechanism, as described below. The present invention deals with the improvement of the popular “half open” method, which currently does not allow the beverage can to be resealed after opening.

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Patent No. 2925237A: Can & Bottle Opener

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Today in 1960, US Patent 2925237 A was issued, an invention of John L. Fox, for his “Can and Bottle Opener.” There’s no Abstract, but the application states that his ” invention relates to a can and bottle opener, and more particularly to a can and bottle opener which can be moved to an out-of-the-way position when it is not being used.

An object of the invention is to provide a can and bottle opener which includes a novel mounting means so that for example with the opener mounted beneath a kitchen cabinet or shelf, the device can be kept in an out-of-the-way position until it is being used, and wherein when the device is being used it can be readily moved to an operative position, and wherein the opener of the present invention is provided with a magnetic means.

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Patent No. 2147004A: Beer Can

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Today in 1939, US Patent 2147004 A was issued, an invention of Samuel Arnold Wark and Alfred C. Torem, for their “Beer Can.” There’s no Abstract, but this is just four years after the introduction of beer cans, and this is one of the more inscrutable applications I’ve read with statements like the “drawing is intended as informative rather than restrictive.” It also says simply that their “invention relates fluids under pressure are to be held, designed as a can for beer.” The rest doesn’t seem to be as informative, or well-written or even flow like many others. But it looks more like modern cans that the cans from the late 1930s.

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Patent No. 3366270A: Pull Tab For Easy Opening Can End

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Today in 1968, US Patent 3366270 A was issued, an invention of Nick S. Khoury, assigned to Continental Can Co., for his “Pull Tab for Easy Opening Can End.” There’s no Abstract, but the description states that the “invention relates to a pull tab wherein in the initial rupture of the container panel, an inward pressure is exerted utilizing the pull tab with the pull tab functioning as a simple first-class lever.”
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Firestone Walker To Introduce Cans

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Firestone Walker Brewing announced today that they will be offering three more of their beers in cans shortly. According to the press release, “Union Jack (IPA), Easy Jack (session IPA) and Pivo (hoppy pilsner) [are] all being introduced in six packs starting in mid February.”
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From the press release:

“We could have rushed into canning a few years ago, but we wanted the timing to be right,” said brewery co-proprietor David Walker. “The market for canned craft beer is now hitting its stride, and canning technology has come a long way in a short period. Also, cans are a perfect fit for life here on the Central Coast. All of these factors converged to finally reach a tipping point for us.”

The brewery’s new canning line was made by leading beer packaging company KHS based in Dortmund, Germany.

“It was the best—and most expensive—solution,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “You can make the best beer in the world, but if you run it through a substandard packaging line, you end up with a beer-wrecking machine. With this KHS line, there are no worries about beer integrity.”

The canning line was first fired up last year to produce cans for the brewery’s 805 brand. The cans are dry-rinsed with ionized air and purged with CO2, then filled. The cans next run through a bubble breaker to remove any air bubbles before being surface purged with CO2 to eliminate oxygen from the head space. They are then seamed with a Swiss-made Ferrum seamer and inverted for a short period to detect any leaks as they exit the seamer. After a final rinse, cardboard carriers are auto-assembled around the cans. At full speed, the canning line produces 400 cans (12-ounce) per minute.

“I think there are advantages to both cans and bottles,” Brynildson said. “Cans do a great job of blocking UV light and maintaining a great seal, but on top of that they’re just fun. They’re light and they carry anywhere. I get goosebumps just thinking about having these beers in cans.”

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