Canned Beer Week: A gem from Bob Skilnik

Canned Beer WeekIn the comments to the "Links" post yesterday, author and beer historian Bob Skilnik left a gem of a comment (actually, he was expanding on a previous comment):

I’m all for the canning of beer, for all the reasons canning came about in 1935, portability, stackability, cools down faster, lighter than bottles, etc.

But when cans first came out in the Repeal-era, those smaller breweries that had a hard enough time buying a bottling line, used to belittle canning efforts, the most frequent criticisms being that the beer tasted "tinny."

Thus was born the cone top can that could be fitted on a bottling line, saving the expense of owning a bottling and canning line. This did mute the criticisms by smaller breweries of cans because even those with a bottling line could now can their beer. At the heart of the argument was really cost, but that was deflected with criticism of cans themselves. Cone cans were a good idea except they didn’t meet the stackability requirement. Because shelf space was and is at a premium, cone cans put themselves out of business.

15-20 years ago, when the craft beer was still crawling, there were a few beer writers who criticized the canning of craft beer (the idea was always out there), using the same old arguments that were bantered about after Krueger started canning in the Repeal-era. They were the same tired arguments, including the "it taste tinny (or metallic)" argument.

In reality, the issue was cost, and a bit more. Even the WSJ article notes that there was a bit of snobbery behind NOT canning craft beer. Heck, there were even a few small craft breweries who didn’t bottle, but instead, chose draft beer as their only beer. And hindering the portability of beer can be a killer.

Why only draft? The real reason was cost again. Bottling lines and all the accompaniments are not cheap, but the argument put forth was that these breweries wanted to bring the freshest beer to their customers and draft beer was the only way to go. The argument was transparent. What it really was saying was "We don’t have enough money to really be in business." Most of them either eventually bought a bottling line or went out of business.

In the meantime, the bigger breweries, including some fine regional breweries, canned their beer successfully and developed the market for canned beer.

I chuckle now when I read glowing articles about canned craft beer. What it shows is a maturity in the craft industry. Instead of crawling, it’s now walking. But to read these articles, it’s as though these craft breweries came upon the idea all by themselves. In actuality, as back in the 1930s, the thing that has held back craft breweries from canning en masse is cost, and that annoying snobbism that says, for some reason, craft beer is beyond or above canning. If a small brewery had had enough money and a large enough market, they would have been bottling AND canning their products years ago. The fact that some craft breweries are now canning their beer shows market maturity.

Rather than denigrate the concept of canned beer, embrace it, but don’t try to reinvent it either.

I thought this was too good to try to summarize or otherwise mangle, and deserved front page exposure.

3 Responses to Canned Beer Week: A gem from Bob Skilnik

  1. Certainly Bob is right about cost and canning, but as you would expect in what might be covered in a comment his history is far from complete.

    Those micro-craft-whatever beers before Dale’s were contract canned. This is not to start an argument about contract brewing, just a fact.

    The creation of an affordable small canning system (now systems) give really small breweries (Oskar Blues was a brewpub producing less than 1,000 barrels) an alternative to labor-intensive bottling by hand.

    And the ability to oversee the production of their beer through the entire process.

    Is it a sign of maturity? Yes. Something to chuckle at? No. That’s another form of snobbism.

  2. If you want more information about the history of canned beer and American beer in general, check out Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

  3. Jeff says:

    Downside of canning: homebrewers can’t harvest the empties for their own purposes. But that’s the only one I can think of.