Beer Birthday: The Beer Can

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Today is “Beer Can Appreciation Day,” because on this day 80 years ago — January 24, 1935 — the humble beer can was sold for the very first time. So join me in wishing the beer can a happy birthday.

Below is an article I wrote about beer cans nine years ago telling the story of their history.

The beer can debuted in 1935, when an otherwise obscure brewery from New Jersey — Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. — test-marketed them in Virginia, as far from their home market as possible. Breweries may have been initially reluctant, but the public loved cans — they were an overnight sensation. By the end of that first year, Schlitz (then one of America’s biggest brewers) had their beer in cans and every other brewery quickly followed suit.

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The beer can was invented by American Can, who patented “Vinylite,” a plastic lining for cans marketed under the brand name “Keglined.” Over the years, the technology continued to improve, from tin to all-aluminum, from cone tops to flat tops, from clumsy openers to pull tops, yet one seemingly intractable problem remained: metal turbity. That’s the technical term for metal leeching into the beer, and consumers increasingly complained about the tainted metallic flavor in canned beer.

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But then craft beer became popular, and with it better beer evangelists preached that canned beer could never be good. And that remained conventional wisdom for decades, made virtually dogma. During that same time, however, research by the can companies solved the metal turbidity problem. Using an organic polymer — really a water-based epoxy acrylic — that was sprayed inside each can during manufacturing, it could now honestly be said that the beer never touched the metal.

Unfortunately, the only beer in cans was not the type that most beer geeks would willingly quaff. The other great hurdle to getting craft beer in a can was the cost. You could buy a cheap, used bottling line but canning lines were quite massive and very expensive. And the people who made cans were used to selling them to big breweries, and so the minimum run for a can was something on the order of a full railroad car, too many and too expensive for even the biggest microbreweries.

But then the bottom fell out of microbrewing, and by the late-1990s equipment suppliers were also feeling the pinch. Hoping to survive the economic downturn, Canada’s Cask Brewing Systems created an affordable solution. They designed a small manual canning line that was cheaper than the average bottling line and persuaded Ball Corporation (a leading can manufacturer) to significantly reduce their minimum orders. All they had to do was convince someone to try canning their beer.

And so Cask started appearing at trade shows and repeatedly sending literature to breweries. When Dale Katechis, of Oskar Blues, in Lyons, Colorado, first read the pitch, he “just laughed and laughed,” thinking there’s “no way this can be done.” But the more he looked into it, the less he laughed. A few months later — in 2002 — Dale’s Pale Ale was released, the first craft beer to be hand-canned. By 2005, Oskar Blues was the biggest brewpub in the U.S. and Dale’s was declared by the New York Times to be the best pale ale in America.

The Oskar Blues team became evangelists for canned beer with the slogan “the canned-beer apocalypse.” Other small breweries noticed Dale’s success and he was only too happy to show them the light. Today, there are nearly forty [in 2006] craft brewers hand-canning their beer.

There are almost as many kinds of beer in cans as there are styles these days, too, from extreme, strong offerings like Surly’s Furious (a 100-IBU Imperial IPA) and Old Chubb (a Scotch Ale) to more unusual beers like Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter and 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon to lighter lagers like Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils and Steamwoks Steam Engine Lager. And now that New Belgium Brewing, one of the largest American craft brewers, is canning their popular Fat Tire Amber Ale, expect to see many more beers in cans in the future.

The biggest challenge is unmaking the dogmatic perception of beer in cans as an evil. It’s a persistent prejudice, but is slowly beginning to change as the advantages to canned beer become more widely known. They keep out all UV light, avoiding the skunky taste of clear and green glass. Cans have lower oxygen levels, meaning longer shelf life. They won’t break; they chill faster and can be taken more places, especially where glass is prohibited. And they’re more environmentally friendly, using less packaging plus more of the can is recyclable, with more used in manufacturing recycled cans. Cans are also lighter, resulting in lower transportation costs and fewer fossil fuels needed.

But in the end, the only thing that matters is how the beer tastes. Side-by-side can vs. draft taste tests reveal that it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. That, coupled with the real advantages of the packaging, means that craft beer in cans is where the future of craft beer is heading.

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Shaun O’Sullivan, co-owner of 21st Amendment, showing off one of his early can designs. 21A was the third brewery in California to can their beer.

When I originally wrote that article, around two dozen small breweries were canning their beer, and when I first posted this in 2011 that number had quadrupled, with over 100 small brewers canning their beer. In 2015, the Canned Beer Database lists 480 breweries offering their beer in cans. It’s great to see good beer in cans become more and more common, and we should continue to see more canned beer from craft brewers in the future. Why not pick up some today and see for yourself how good it now is from a can, especially as we celebrate “Beer Can Appreciation Day.”

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Patent No. 20140008367A1: Beverage Delivery Can

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Today in 2014, just last year, US Patent 20140008367 A1 was issued, an invention of six people including Jim Koch, and assigned to the Boston Beer Co., for a “Beverage Delivery Can.” Here’s the Abstract:

A beverage delivery can may comprise various configurations. Such configurations may comprise various aperture shapes, sizes, and configurations and various shapes, textures, configurations, and dimensions of the lid and surface of the can. A beverage can may comprise various exterior shapes such as a tapered shape, a faceted shape, a pint glass shape and the like. In embodiments, the beverage can may comprise various types of nucleation devices. In embodiments, various external packaging may be used with one or more beverage delivery cans.

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This not the can, at least not yet, that Boston Beer put their Samuel Adams Boston Lager and other beers in, a prototype for which is below. This can design more resembles their proprietary glass, so perhaps we’ll one day see this can on store shelves.
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Patent No. 3784059A: Beverage Can Drinking Holder

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Today in 1974, US Patent 3784059 A was issued, an invention of John Katzakian, for a “Beverage Can Drinking Holder.” Here’s the Abstract:

A beverage can drinking holder including an annular sleeve encircling the upper end margin of a beverage can wherein the sleeve has an interior surface gradually tapering radially inwardly progressively upwardly for receiving and seating the upper end edge of the can. The sleeve includes an annular upper end edge forming a drinking lip encircling the sleeve and spaced above the upper edge of the can a distance sufficient to provide an overflow reservoir for receiving an expanding volume of foam and beverage from the can below. In addition, a sharp rigid can-piercing element is carried within the sleeve for driving an opening into the top of the can. A stein or mug-like holder assembly includes a pair of spaced annular members for receiving the opposite ends of the can wherein one of the members is movable between advanced and retracted positions to permit insertion of the can therebetween and subsequent holding of the can by moving the movable member to its advanced position.

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Patent No. 20100000997A1: Double-Ended Openers Beverage Can

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Today in 2010, just five years ago, US Patent 20100000997 A1 was issued, an invention of Erik L. Southers, for a “Double-Ended Openers Beverage Can.” Here’s the Abstract:

The invention relates to a beverage can with an opener at each end allowing the user to drink from the first end while opening the second end which results in the liquid rapidly evacuating the beverage can. The beverage can is particularly useful for chug-a-lugging beer.

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Patent No. D216422S: Beer Can

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Today in 1970, US Patent D216422 S was issued, an invention of Karl Koch, for an ornamental design for a “Beer Can.” There’s no Abstract, but it’s described simply as a “can circular in all cross sections and the side opposite that shown is the same in appearance as the side shown except that the label area is replaced by a continuation of the barrel motif.”

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Patent No. 20110000913A1: Beer Can With Top & Bottom Pull Tabs

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Today in 2011, just four years ago, US Patent 20110000913 A1 was issued, an invention of Todd Allen Bland, for a “Beer Can with Top and Bottom Pull Tabs.” Here’s the Abstract:

The herein invention discloses improvements to the conventional beer, soda or vegetable juice can such as tomato as well as medical or automotive such as oil cans containing fluid. The improvements consisting of one or a plurality of pull tabs on the top and the bottom of the can allowing the liquid to empty out of the cans in a matter of seconds. Prior art only shows one pull tab on the top taking the cans too long to empty for consumers that desire their beverage to flow quicker and to avoid spraying their beverage potentially getting in to the eyes of consumers and destroying property such as clothes and furniture as it is widely known consumers puncture holes toward the bottom of the can to release the liquid quicker endangering themselves and others by spraying beverage and by the sharp objects used to make the holes in the cans. My new invention will improve safety for these types of consumers furthermore if the top tab breaks the bottom pull tab will allow the can to be opened. Additionally, a tomatoe juice can having two pull tabs on the top allows the thick juice to flow more rapidly. This also relieves having a sharp can opener to accomplish this task.

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Anchor Cans California Lager

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Anchor Brewing announced yesterday that they’ll be releasing their popular California Lager in cans as a part of ” two unique partnerships,” in which “a portion of proceeds from Anchor California Lager sales will support the National Parks Conservation Association and the California State Parks Foundation.” Putting the beer in cans, they believe, will “offer greater convenience and versatility for outdoor activities.”

From the press release:

“Parks are one of our most precious resources that everyone from coast-to-coast can enjoy,” said Keith Greggor, CEO of Anchor Brewing Company. “Anchor California Lager already has tremendous success supporting parks in our home state and we look forward to supporting the National Parks Conversation Association’s work protecting our national parks.”

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Anchor’s history, California’s first genuine lager, and our country’s state parks were born in the second half of the 19th Century. Today, California is home to 280 state parks and 26 of America’s 401 national parks. To celebrate that unique heritage, Anchor Brewing Company has partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association and the California State Parks Foundation to support their efforts to conserve and enrich the natural beauty and history of parks nationwide.

And here’s the background info on the beer:

Anchor Brewing Company’s roots go back to the Gold Rush, long before icehouses and modern refrigeration made traditional lagers a viable option. In 1876—thanks to an ice pond in the mountains and a belief that anything is possible in the Golden State—a little brewery named Boca created California’s first genuine lager. Anchor California Lager is a re-creation of this historic beer.

Crisp, clean, and refreshing, its rich golden color, distinctive aroma, lingering creamy head, balanced depth of flavor, and incredibly smooth finish are like no other lager today. Made in San Francisco with two-row California barley, Cluster hops (the premier hop in 19th-century California), and Anchor’s own lager yeast, Anchor California Lager is kräusened and lagered in the cellars of the brewery. This all-malt brew is a delicious celebration of California’s unique brewing heritage.

That should be a fun beer to take on a hike or camping, not to mention the beer helps what I consider to be a very worthy cause, our state and national parks.

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Beer In Film #91: The Self-Refilling Beer Can

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Today’s beer film is a short break from featuring the Michael Jackson Beer Hunter series, which will conclude tomorrow. Because it’s April 1, our video today is one from my friend and colleague Marty Jones about Cask Brewing Systems — the Canadian company that started microcanning — and their latest innovation: the Self-Refilling Beer Can (SRBC). According to the press release, “The SRBC is a unique Cask invention that enables consumers to refill empty beer cans with the beer that was originally packaged in the SRBC.”

More from the press release:

The can has the potential to significantly change the canned craft beer segment.

“We’ve been providing innovative equipment to craft brewers since the 1980s,” says Cask president and founder Peter Love. “We’ve also been helping craft canners since 2002. But this may be the most innovative thing we’ve ever done.”

“For years,” Love says, “we’ve touted the fact that aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable. Now we can say they are infinitely refillable.”

The can was developed at Cask’s brewing research laboratory with the help of Professor Phelyx, a Denver, Colorado microcanning scientist.

“This can has incredible benefits for craft brewers,” Phelyx says. “The Self-Refilling Beer Can allows breweries to increase their beer production without
having to actually produce more beer.”

To create the SRBC, Phelyx and Cask experts first created a unique resealing mechanism called the Lid Occlusion Lock (LOL) that reseals an opened can when the consumer gently rubs the can’s opening with their finger.

Once the lid is resealed, the beer drinker then lightly shakes the can to activate the In-Can Brewing System (ICBS) that then “rebrews” the original beer that was packaged in the can.

“Perfecting the ICBS was the crucial step in creating the Self-Refilling Beer Can,” Phelyx notes. “Once we were able to make that work, the Self-Refilling Beer Can went from a dream to a reality.”

In addition to providing a lifetime of craft beer to consumers, the SRBC has other benefits.

“It will quickly shrink the packaging costs for our customers,” says Cask’s Jamie Gordon, “and eliminate any waste from dented cans prior to filling. It could eliminate the need for beer can recycling, too.”

The initial response from retailers to the SRBC has not been favorable. “The lost sales alone would be devastating to my industry,” says Ron Vaughn, of Denver, Colorado’s Argonaut Wine & Liquor. “We don’t want to see it in the market.”

To address these concerns, Cask is developing a royalty system that will compensate retailers for any losses from the SRBC.

Cask officials are releasing the first samples of the SRBC to the craft brewing industry on Tuesday, April 1.

Cask officials are not divulging the price of the cans.

Cask Brewing Systems invented the beer industry’s first microcanning equipment in 2002. Cask now supplies a range of affordable, compact, high-performance canning systems to small-scale breweries and packagers worldwide.

Cask has installed over 300 canning lines in 20 countries, and is the official supplier of Ball Corporation printed aluminum cans for its Cask customers.

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Marty Jones with Professor Phelyx.

Beer In Film #72: How It’s Made — Aluminum Cans

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Today’s beer video is from the documentary series How It’s Made that runs on the Discovery Channel in Canada and Great Britain, and on the Science Channel in the U.S. How It’s Made has been running for 22 seasons, having debuted in 2001. Each half-hour show features around four roughly five-minute segments, so they’ve covered a lot over the course of 286 episodes so far. This show, about Aluminum Cans, was the second segment in episode 23, the 10th episode in Season 2.