A Short History Of The 12-Pack

Yesterday’s Beer in Ads post featured an ad for Budweiser from the 1970s. The ad, Pick-A-Pair Twice!, was trying to get people to buy not one, but two six-packs. I wondered in the post when the 12-pack debuted. My ignorance about this stems largely from having grown up in Pennsylvania, which is a case state, one of the weirder examples of what happened when alcohol laws were left to the states following the repeal of prohibition.

I’d never really thought about the 12-pack package until I was posting that ad last night. I remember reading about breweries experimenting with different size packages in groceries way back when until they decided six was the right weight for women shopping to pick up and bring home (assuming that’s even true).

After high school I went into the military, stationed in Virginia and then New York City, but generally went to bars and rarely bought beer for at home since I lived in a barracks. After my stint in the army, I moved back to PA. When I moved to California in 1985, there were 12-packs everywhere, though in retrospect I don’t remember even paying any special notice of them. By that time, most of the beers I was interested in came in 22 oz. bottles, or maybe six-packs. Who was the first early small brewer to have 12-packs? My guess is probably Samuel Adams. Sierra Nevada wasn’t until the latter 1990s, I believe. I was still the chain buyer at BevMo when they debuted. RedHook might have been early on, too.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting an answer, but happily Dave “Beer Dave” Gausepohl sent me an excellent response. Beer Dave is breweriana collector of epic proportions, and has over 400,000 items in his collection, He’s also a board member of the BCCA — the Brewery Collectibles Club of America and a frequent contributor to All About Beer magazine. Here’s his short history of the 12-pack, written extemporaneously, from his own studying of beer history, reprinted with his kind permission.

Six-packs appeared first by Pabst just following World War II. They tested numerous package sizes and determined in a sexist fashion that the average housewife could comfortably carry six beers home with the shopping. The 12-pack came a few years later, and it resembled the dimensions of the Full Sail Session 12-packs. This was due to the fact that the first cans in 12-pack packages were cone top and crowntainer cans. This was also a corrugated carton. These cans were able to be filled on most breweries bottling lines with little retooling and they did not have purchase separate packaging equipment. The one way bottle was much more desired than cans when the flat top can debuted in 1935. World War II also limited the steel for cans and returnable bottles were a friendlier package towards the war effort.

In the 1960s when the convenience store took off, six-packs were the package of choice. They worked with the shelf space mostly laid out for milk and dairy items. The moisture of the retailers’ refrigeration equipment also was not kind to packaging larger than six packs. Also glass was still the package of choice for beer. Glass was a cheaper package than steel or aluminum. Many breweries had 8-pack glass as their package. It was not until after the oil crisis of the 1970s that the weight of packaging became a major cost factor. This movement pushed breweries to pursue cans over glass.

A Stay Cold Pack, this one by Stroh’s.

Rainier debuted the Cold Pack in the early 1960s. In the Midwest it was not until the late 1960s when Stroh’s pioneered a similar 12-pack with a foilized paper that could with withstand the moisture of the refrigeration systems used at retail. A number of carton manufacturers like Mead developed waxed versions of cardboard to withstand the moisture levels. Corrugated rather than cardboard was the leader prior to the advent of the moisture resistant 12-pack. Back then just like today wet corrugated boxes have NO strength or purpose.

The difference in corrugated boards.

The Pick-A-Pair campaign was a huge success for Budweiser. Ironically a number of states did not allow for 12-packs to be sold. The eight-pack was the largest package allowed to be purchased at retail in numerous states. The enormous growth to the suburbs also increased the demand for a larger retail pack. Since the country was driving to the store rather than walking or taking the bus or street car, more items could be carted home on the average shopping trip. The development of the supermarket drove this demand for package innovation. Also, the advancement of the size of the household refrigerator made this a more inviting package.

An example of a cardboard 12-pack.

Prior to the 1970’s Returnable bottles in the 12, 16 and even quart bottle were very much a part of how beer was retailed. These fiberboard cases were very durable and withstood many trips back to the breweries to be refilled. These were a desired package with the on-premise trade. I imagine you remember the heavy wooden crates and glass bottles that soft drinks were packaged in until the 1980s.

An example of Fiberboard.

Thanks Beer Dave. Now you know.

Patent No. 468258A: Bottle-Sealing Device

Today in 1892, US Patent 468258 A was issued, an invention of William Painter, for his “Bottle-Sealing Device.” There’s no Abstract, and it’s funny to see it called a “bottle-sealing device,” when essentially it’s simply a crown or bottle cap. Is it possible that the term had not yet been coined at this point? Painter in his application described his device:

For use with any suitable sealing medium, whether in the form vof a plug or a disk, or a combined disk and plug, applied at or in the mouth of a bottle, I have devised metallic sealing-caps embodying certain novel characteristics which render them highly effective and so inexpensive as to warrant throwing them away after a single use thereof, even when forcible displacement, as in opening bottles, has resulted in no material injury to the caps.

I have seen his name linked to the invention of crowns, so these may be the very first ones.

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

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.”

Cardboard Beer Bottles?

Well here’s a strange one. The Drinks Business is reporting that Carlsberg has created a new bottle made of “sustainably sourced wood-fiber” and “all materials used in the bottle, including the cap, will be developed using bio-based and biodegradable materials.” Known as the “Green Fiber Bottle,” it was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “as part of a three-year project with packaging company ecoXpac, and in partnership with Innovation Fund Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark.”

From the Drinks Business article:

Andraea Dawson-Shepherd, senior vice president for corporate affairs, said: “At Carlsberg we are firm believers in the importance of a circular economy in ensuring sustainable future growth and development on our planet, and today’s announcement is excellent news. If the project comes to fruition, as we think it will, it will mark a sea-change in our options for packaging liquids, and will be another important step on our journey towards a circular, zero-waste economy.”

The article notes that “Carlsberg’s bottles are planned to be produced in one piece using an inner coating that will decompose naturally.” I can’t but help thinking this has about as much chance of catching on as the plastic bottle, something Carlsberg, along with several other larger beer companies, dabbled with over the last decade.


Patent No. 3788538A: Beer Carton

Today in 1974, US Patent 3788538 A was issued, an invention of William A. Kuenzi, assigned to Miller Brewing, for his “Beer Carton.” Here’s the Abstract:

The entry of light into the interior of a beer carton through the handholes thereof is prevented by flaps, one of which is hingedly attached to the inner surface of each end panel above the upper margin of the handhole. The flaps are preferably wider than the handholes, extend downwardly below the lower margin of the handholes, and have a free lower edge. The flaps are preferably deflectable inwardly along a fold line opposite the upper margin of the handholes to permit entry of fingers around the upper margin of the handhole and between the inner surface of the end panel and the adjacent surface of the flap. Each end wall panel is preferably made of triple-folded material with the flap being cut out of the inside face of the material and the handhole being cut through the other two thicknesses.


Patent No. 20140008367A1: Beverage Delivery Can

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.

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.

Original Lite Beer Can Coming Back

These always give me a chuckle. Whenever sales are flagging, one of the strategies employed by the bigger beer companies to reverse their fortunes is to change the packaging. Earlier this month, Miller sent out a press release, “Celebrate Miller Time with the Light Beer that Started It All.” They’re bringing back the original can design for Miller Lite, their unnatural abomination of a diet beer. My thoughts on low-calorie light beer are very opinionated, and none too positive, for example read Disrespecting Low-Calorie Light Beer and No Defense For Light Beer.


Here’s the press release:

The Original Lite Can features the familiar images of hops, barley and the words “a fine pilsner beer,” which reinforce the high quality ingredients and the unique brewing process that consumers have enjoyed for generations.

“There was a time when all that existed was heavy beer that weighed you down,” said Elina Vives, marketing director for Miller Lite. “The launch of Miller Lite broke this category convention and offered beer drinkers the best of both worlds, great taste at only 96 calories and 3.2 carbs. Miller Lite is the original light beer and this limited-edition can celebrates that innovation and helps inform consumers of the rich history behind our beer.”

In addition to becoming available to consumers in January, the Original Lite Can will appear in the upcoming Paramount Pictures’ release, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The news team can be seen enjoying the Original Lite in the film, which will be released nationwide December 18.

The limited-edition Original Lite Can will be available nationwide January through March in 12-, 16- and 24-ounce sizes.

All well and good, but sheesh, why not just make a beer that people would want to drink, not one you have to market and advertise to death to create demand? Can people really be nostalgic for that can design? But that seems to be used a marketing tactic every few years, to change the package, the label or something along those lines. It’s indicative of a culture that’s long ago abandoned the importance of what’s inside the package and instead has been concentrating on the external. Sure, how the packaging looks is important, but it’s not more important than the beer, and for big beer companies it surely seems like marketing has trumped any other concerns for many, many years.

Calling it a “Pilsner beer,” of course, strains the notion of what a pilsner is.

Never Say Never: Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cans

Lots of big announcements in the beer world this week, as the Boson Beer Co. made public today their plan to release Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans this summer. I can’t seem to find the original source this morning, but I clearly recall several years ago that Boston Beer founder Jim Koch was quoted at one time that Samuel Adams beer would never be in cans, but over time his stance began to soften, and by 2010 he was warming to the idea. At that time, he told Beer Business Daily that he did believe that someday Samuel Adams would be in cans, and was still looking at the BPA in liners as a not-quite-resolved-yet issue. Once upon a time, their 2005 “Beer Bill of Rights” included as Article VI: “Beer shall be offered in bottles, not cans, so that no brew is jeopardized with the taste of metal.”


That issue has largely been solved with the use of an organic polymer, but Boston Beer has apparently taken it one step farther, designing their own type of can for the project, “the Sam Can.”

From the press release:

Samuel Adams announced today that for the first time it plans to offer Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a can – but not just any can. The new can design — the result of two years of ergonomic and sensory research and testing — aims to provide a drinking experience that is closer to the taste and comfort of drinking beer from a glass. The “Sam Can,” as the brewers call it, will hit shelves in early summer 2013, just in time for drinking occasions that call for the convenience of a can such as sporting events, boating or the beach.

“The debate over bottles vs. cans has been a sticking point for brewers in the craft beer community for years,” says Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “In the past, I had my doubts about putting Sam Adams in a can because I wasn’t convinced that Boston Lager would taste as good as it does from a bottle. But cans have changed. And I believe we’ve designed a can that provides a slight but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beer can.”

Koch and the other brewers at Samuel Adams first worked with can manufacturer Ball Corporation to understand can design, technology, and how to package premium beer in cans. The brewers then worked with a design team at IDEO, a recognized global design firm, and finally enlisted the help of sensory expert, Roy Desrochers of GEI Consultants. Desrochers, a recognized beer flavor expert for the Master Brewer’s Association of the Americas (MBAA), has provided counsel to the brewing industry for almost three decades. With Desrochers’ help, Koch studied every aspect of the new can, from how it could potentially impact the flavor of Samuel Adam’s flagship Boston Lager to the ergonomics of how the beer flows from the can and hits the taste receptors on a drinker’s tongue.

“I worked with Jim and the other brewers at Sam Adams on an ergonomic and flavor study to understand the benefits of the new can,” says Desrochers. “The flared lip and wider top of the new Sam Can work in concert to deliver the beer in a way that makes the flavor closer to drinking out of a glass. Although subtle, this can delivers a more pronounced, more balanced flavor experience – something that was very important to the brewers. The extended lip of the can also creates a smoother, more comfortable overall drinking experience.”

The difference in drinking out of the new can as compared to a standard can will be modest, but drinkers should notice enhanced flavors and a more comfortable experience. The position of the can opening and wider lid, naturally opens up the mouth allowing for more air flow and positions the drinker’s nose closer to the hop aromas of the beer. A little known fact is that most of what we think we taste is actually what we smell – that’s why it’s hard to taste food with a stuffed up nose. Drinkers also noticed that the extended, curved lip of the can delivered the beer to the front of the palate to maximize the early enjoyment of the malt sweetness.

Koch’s end goal in developing a new can is to provide drinkers with the best possible Boston Lager drinking experience when they prefer the convenience of a can, like on the golf course or at the beach, without compromising the taste of his first and favorite beer, Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Celebrating the flavors and ingredients in Boston Lager is what also led to the development of the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Pint Glass in 2007, also the result of a lengthy research project to enhance the beer drinking experience.

“The new Sam Can required a million dollar investment in special equipment tooling along with time, research and testing. This new can will also cost more than the standard can to produce. It may seem a little crazy to make that kind of investment, but we felt the slight improvement in the drinking experience was worth the expense. We made decisions based on the beer, not on the bottom line,” Koch explains. “We’ve done tastings here at the brewery, with Sam Adams drinkers and our experts, “and now, we’re proud to launch Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans. We have a vessel that gives our drinkers the best tasting Samuel Adams in a can.”

Among the many advantages of cans is that drinkers prefer cans in certain circumstances where bottles are often not allowed or convenient, such as beaches, parks, pools, sporting events, boats and airplanes. Samuel Adams Boston Lager in cans will be available in 12-packs nationwide beginning early summer, for a suggested retail price of $14.99-17.99 (price varies by market).

You can also read additional information about what went in to the design of the can at BostInno and also at Boston.com’s Sam Adams: Now (finally) in a can.

Of course, the fact that many other regional breweries have put their beer in cans, too — Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Brooklyn Brewery, RedHook, etc. — has to have been a factor, too. Still, for can fans this is great news. Cans have outsold beer in bottles for the big brewers for decades, and at least as long as 1980, if not longer, so it only makes sense that as craft brewers grow larger that such a popular package would become part of their portfolios, as well, as they continue to take a bigger and bigger piece of the nationwide beer pie.

The Top Beer Brand Of 2012

I don’t want to wade neck deep into the “craft vs. crafty” debate — I’m not quite finished digesting it all — so I’m trying to not comment too much about this, yet in this instance, I’m going to at least stick my toe into the murky waters of this issue. (Oh, and a hat tip to Evan Benn for tweeting about this.)

Ace Metrix, a company based in nearby Mountain View, has just released their list of the Top Brands and Ads of 2012. Ace Metrix characterizes themselves as “the new standard in television and video analytics.”

They picked the top brand in fifteen different broad categories. The award does not go to the company with the best product, but to the one that had the best advertising last year, that is whoever received the “highest average Ace Score for their body of work in 2012.” This is best illustrated by reviewing some of the other category “winners.” For example, Olive Garden won for restaurants, so that should tell you something.

In the category “Beverages — Alcoholic” the winner was Blue Moon. You can even view the five Blue Moon commercials that got the highest scores. Now, I like Blue Moon. It’s not a bad beer. It may not be my favorite wit, but unlike many other beers made by big companies, I will drink it if my choices are limited. I know its creator, Keith Villa (who also stars in the commercials), and I’ve judged with him at GABF several times. It’s a great entry level beer, and has been phenomenally successful in that regard and also in marketing itself as not being part of Coors, in the same way that Saturn cars did in setting themselves apart from GM.

But that’s the way of the world, at least in our peculiar pro-corporate brand of capitalism. In brewing, I have to say, things are a lot more transparent than in many other industries. There was also a Geekologie chart of Parent Companies and their Subsidiary Brands, but the site’s been more recently hacked, to get an idea of how literally hundreds of brands are owned by just ten corporations. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that most people weren’t aware of more than a few of those relationships, believing many of those brands to be independent or small companies, if they even cared at all.

Maybe it’s because in the world of beer geekdom we pay so much more attention, but most of the stealth brands like Blue Moon are open secrets. They may not talk about who owns the brands, but the information is out there and available if you bother to look. The thing is, most people don’t. If they like it, they drink it, and they buy it. Period.

Where the trouble comes in, I think, is when doing so infringes on another’s business ethos, or whatever. When small specialty breweries first started popping up, the big guys were initially somewhat helpful but as they began eating into their market share, things started to change. Over the years we’ve seen many attempts, with varying degrees of success, to copy or acquire anything that’s successful. In a sense it’s human nature, or certainly business nature. Do you think it’s an accident that after any successful film or television series, similar shows in the same genre proliferate with alarming alacrity?

But back to the Ace Metrix and their top brands of 2012. In their press release, in a section entitled “Brands of the Year Illuminate Many Notable Themes,” there’s this headline: “Craft Beer and Juice Beat Out Big Beer and Soda Brands.” Here’s the relevant bits about beer:

A changing of the guard was not only seen in the technology category, but also in the beverage category in which Blue Moon usurped the top spot from ‘big beer,’ and Ocean Spray ousted Coca-Cola from the winner’s platform. … Blue Moon swept the Alcoholic Beverage Category with an average Ace Score of 538, beating out big beer brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, all of which failed to even make the Watch List this year, a stark comparison to 2011.

See the problem? How can Blue Moon have usurped anything from “big beer” when it really is a big beer. And that’s why the Brewers Association had to come out with its recent controversial statement, because even professional business analysts don’t realize who owns what, so what chance do consumers have?

I’m going to steer clear of the BA’s statement itself, at least for now, except to say that I thought the excellent rebuttal by August Schell was heart-wrenching and perfectly illustrated the problems of such statements and definitions. Because those characterizations only matter internally, among insiders and the businesses and professionals working in those industries. And while once upon a time those inner workings remained … well, internal … today almost everything is out in the open, on the internet, and often what might better be private insider discussions become full-blown public debates. Sometimes, it’s simply exhausting.

It’s a bit like beer styles themselves. They only really matter in very rarified situations, like competition judging. In the real world, they matter very little. It’s the same with trying to define beer, or craft beer, or whatever we’re calling it now. I completely understand why the BA needs to define craft beer, because their mission is to promote craft beer. You have to know exactly what and who it is you’re promoting in order to do your job. I get that. From private discussions I had a few years ago with people who were involved in crafting the newer definition over about a year’s time, it was apparently a very contentious process and was extremely difficult because with every changed word, someone was excluded or someone you didn’t think belonged remained. It reminds me a little of a famous quip made by a Supreme Court justice in Jacobellis v. Ohio when, in trying to define hardcore pornography and create an obscenity threshold, Justice Potter Stewart wrote that it was difficult to define, but that “I know it when I see it.”

And that’s the problem, because how you define craft beer is, and should be, different things to different people, with varying priorities and concerns. It may be one thing to the BA, but something else entirely for an average consumer and yet again something more stringent to a hardcore beer geek. The thing is, everybody’s both right and wrong on this one, at least as I see it. When you’re talking about personal preference, it’s ultimately just that: personal. Like pornography or even religion, whatever you believe is correct, for you. Whatever you choose to drink is right for you. I may disagree with your choice, but that’s okay. Happily, they come in these little 12, 16 or 22 oz. bottles and cans, or can be poured into single-serving sizes of glassware, so that we can all just drink what we want, definitions be damned.

Mockingbird Beer Bottles

Sam Wiley, a Brooklyn-based designer and advertising artist who’s done work for Anheuser-Busch, was asked to create packaging for a brand to be called “Mocking Bird Lager” and “Mockingbird Pilsner.” I don’t know if these were done for ABI – she doesn’t say — and as far as I know, no one has launched this line of beer, so it’s anybody’s guess, but it’s a great looking design. I don’t like clear glass because it’s not good for the beer, but from a purely design point-of-view she used the clear glass and the gold of the liquid to nice effect. I like that they don’t look like typical beer bottle designs and I think as the market gets more crowded, any brand’s ability to stand out on the shelf will become increasingly important.