Learn the Interesting History of Beer Cans

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During the late 19th century, cans were key to mass food distribution. The American Can Company first attempted to can beer in 1909, but failed. In 1933, after two years of research, they developed a pressurized can with a special coating to prevent the beer from reacting with the tin.

Innovations like Keglined cans and cone top designs appeared. But the real game-changer came in 1963. The shift to all-aluminum cans in 1958 also revolutionized the industry. The history of beer cans is full of fascinating developments that have shaped how we enjoy beer today.

Early Packaging Challenges

Early beer cans faced challenges in maintaining quality and preventing a metallic taste. Manufacturers needed materials to withstand high pressure during pasteurization to preserve the beer’s flavor. This led to Keglined cans with a special lining to prevent the beer from contacting the metal.

There were two main designs: cone-top and flat-top. Flat-tops required a church-key opener. Despite these challenges, over 160 million beer cans were sold in the first year, showing quick consumer adaptation. Innovations like Keglined cans were crucial in addressing these issues and popularizing canned beer.

The First Beer Can

Beer Can

In the early 1930s, the American Can Company revolutionized beverage packaging by developing the world’s first beer can. This groundbreaking innovation signaled a significant shift in the beer industry. Recognizing the potential of this new packaging, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey, agreed to produce the first beer cans in November 1933.

Krueger’s Special Beer, a 3.2% alcohol by volume brew, was selected for this pioneering attempt. The American Can Company and Krueger distributed 2,000 cans to loyal customers as a test. These early cans featured cone tops, which were easier to fill and seal compared to the flat tops used today.

The results were positive. Customers appreciated the convenience and taste of Krueger’s canned beer. The success of Krueger’s Special Beer led to the widespread adoption of beer cans by breweries nationwide. This innovation not only transformed beer packaging and consumption but also laid the foundation for the modern beer can industry.

The Richmond Can Test

The Richmond Can Test of 1934 was a pivotal moment in the history of beer packaging. It began when the American Can Company convinced Krueger Brewing to trial canned beer in Richmond, Virginia. The goal was to see if consumers would accept this new packaging format and fortunately, results were overwhelmingly positive. By January 1935, Krueger’s canned beer was available citywide.

This successful market introduction not only boosted Krueger’s sales but also demonstrated to other regional breweries the viability of canned beer. The American Can Company’s innovative approach with the Richmond Can Test proved that canned beer could be a successful product, leading to its widespread adoption across the United States.

As more breweries embraced this new packaging method, the beer packaging industry underwent a significant transformation. Canned beer became a staple and offered consumers a more convenient and safer way to enjoy their favorite brews.

Evolution of Can Design

Evolution of Can Design

Flat Top Style

First marketed by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in January 1935 and nationally by Pabst in June of the same year, flat-top cans were in use until about 1970. These early steel cans weighed nearly four ounces, requiring a large churchkey opener.

Cone Top Style

G. Heileman Brewing Company

In September 1935, the G. Heilemann Brewing Company introduced the cone-top cans. It had funnel-like tops and appealed to smaller brewers since they could be filled on existing bottling lines. However, this style faded by 1960 as smaller brewers were driven out of business by larger companies. There are four types: Low Profile, High Profile, J-spout (all three-piece cans differing in cone height), and Crowntainer (one-piece body with a concave bottom).

Crowntainer

Pull Tab or Tab Top Style

In March 1963, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company introduced self-opening cans with Iron City Beer. By 1965, 75% of all cans had easy-open devices. Pull tabs were popular for about ten years before being replaced by stay tabs.

Companies like Falls City Brewing Company swiftly adopted the technology which often requiring only temporary modifications to their canning lines.

However, the widespread use of pull tabs led to environmental issues. Discarded tabs became hazards for pets, wildlife, and people, prompting a significant change in 1975 with the introduction of stay tabs.

Stay Tab Style

Introduced in 1975 by the Falls City Brewing Company, stay tabs stayed attached to the can, solving environmental issues caused by loose pull tabs. Today, all carbonated beverages use stay tabs.

All-Aluminum Cans

All-Aluminum Cans

Hawaii Brewing Co. introduced all-aluminum beer cans in 1958. It stood out for their lightweight and durable composition. This innovation initiated a recycling revolution, making material reuse more efficient.

Aluminum cans significantly improved beer quality by keeping it fresher for longer periods and revolutionized the industry with its lightweight and durable design. These cans quickly replaced their steel counterparts due to their significantly lighter weight, making them easier to transport and stack. Consequently, breweries could ship beer more efficiently and at a reduced cost.

All-aluminum cans are highly recyclable and environmentally friendly. They resist corrosion, keeping beer fresh and protected, which maintains its quality and taste. This makes them popular with brewers and consumers. The shift to aluminum cans improved logistics, product quality, and set new standards in durability and sustainability, as they withstand transportation stresses and reduce damage.

Impact on Beer Quality

All-aluminum cans provided a breakthrough in preserving the freshness and shelf life of packaged beer. This non-reactive material offered a secure seal, protecting the beer from light and oxygen, which could spoil its flavor. Additionally, aluminum cans could withstand the high pressure during pasteurization, ensuring consistent beer quality.

Here’s how all-aluminum cans have impacted beer quality:

  • Neutral Taste: Eliminates metallic aftertaste, making beer taste closer to draft.
  • Extended Shelf Life: Keeps beer fresher for longer periods.
  • Durability: Withstands high pressure during pasteurization, maintaining beer integrity.
  • Convenience: Lightweight and easy to transport.
  • Recyclability: Eco-friendly and reduces waste.

Conclusion

The history of beer cans is evidence of human ingenuity and innovation. From the early challenges of maintaining quality and preventing metallic tastes to the revolutionary introduction of all-aluminum cans, each development has significantly shaped the way we enjoy beer today. Innovations such as the Keglined cans, cone top designs, and pull tabs addressed crucial issues, making canned beer more popular and accessible. 

The transition to all-aluminum cans not only improved beer quality and shelf life but also set new standards for sustainability and efficiency in the industry. As we sip from our cans today, we are partaking in a rich legacy of continual improvement and adaptation in beer packaging

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