Canned Beer Week: Links

Canned Beer WeekAs I dig around the web on the topic of canned beer, I’ve come across some gems:

  • From the comments: Surly Brewing, in Minnesota, cans several of their beers: Bender, Furious, CynicAle, and SurlyFest. All in 16 ounce cans, the latter two are seasonal. ("Our canned beer is not filtered or pasteurized, so keep it cold. This is the same great beer that people enjoy from kegs, so treat our cans like a keg.")
  • In case you were wondering when canned beer first appeared in the U.S., History.com’s "This Day in History" is a good summary:

    Canned beer makes its debut on [January 24,] 1935. In partnership with the American Can Company, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to faithful Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia. Ninety-one percent of the drinkers approved of the canned beer, driving Krueger to give the green light to further production.

  • But what about beers outside the United States? Beercans.org has an international history of the subject.
  • Even though it’s nearly three years old, this article from the Wall Street Journal on the subject covers pretty much everything I’d want to for the Week: history, a profile of Oskar Blues and other brewers, even a beer review taste-off (with chart!). Some good pulls:
    • As of that writing (August 2005), there were "about two dozen" craft brewers in the U.S. canning their beers.
    • This is a great quote that quite adeptly sums up the "can prejudice" I was talking about: "By the early 1980s, the beer can became a symbol of everything that was wrong with brewing among a small, but growing, rank of brewers who were tired of what they called ‘national beer.’ In their view, the mass-produced, middle-of-the-road, light and overcarbonated beer being made… was as soulless as the cans it usually came in."
    • For the tasting, there appears to be no significant difference between canned and bottled beers; several canned beers scored high and most of the panel couldn’t tell the difference.
  • Finally, humorously I think, here’s a website promoting "International Canned Beer Month" which appears to take up the month of August. It doesn’t seem to be serious—other than in a frat-boy drinking kind of way—but I figured, eh, why not.

5 Responses to Canned Beer Week: Links

  1. Bob Skilnik says:

    Surly Brewing will regret that it’s sending out canned beer that’s unfiltered AND non-pasteurized. Unless they have total control over their distribution system and ALL their retailers, they’re going to have problems.

    Why do you think no one else is doing this? HINT: It’s been tried before with bad results. Why try to reinvent the wheel?

    BTW, the same organization and beer writers who poo-poohed canned beer are now writing about the craft breweries who currently can their beer as though they are revolutionaries.

    The negative arguments that have bee used for the last twenty years as to why craft brewers shouldn’t/wouldn’t can their beers were the same old tired arguments that were used by brewers who couldn’t afford canning lines when Krueger came out with canned beer in 1935.

    One day canned beer is no good; the next day it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. C’mon. I thought only A-B would denigrate and then replicate.

  2. Wow, speaking of negative…

    I love the idea of canned beer. It’s a great packaging option for a lot of reasons.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if there were distributors and retailers around the nation that understood how to keep beer? Oh wait, there are specialty beer distributors and retailers in almost every area that do it right. Let’s focus on promoting the good ones, rather than the other ones.

    I think many of the beer writers out here today weren’t even around in 1935. Most probably weren’t writing about beer 20 years ago, either. Any poo-poohing of canned beer I have ever read has been aimed at BMC. And it had nothing to do with cans, but rather what was inside the cans.

    It’s time for the small brewers to take a look at what the big guys are doing, and figure out how to use some of those strategies to their advantage. Whether it’s packaging in little cans or making big ad campaigns, there’s a reason that these highly-organized mega-industrial-brewers do things. They might not make our favorite beer, but they make a very consistent product and run excellent manufacturing operations that turn great profits on a consistent basis. They must be doing something right, and maybe canning the beer is part of that. Oskar Blues is the poster child for the potential of canned beer, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

  3. Jon says:

    Bob, no offense, but I’m a little confused on your comments; no sure on which side of the issue you’re coming down on.

    I linked to Surly specifically because someone left a comment about them and I hadn’t heard of them before. I’ll be linking to other microbrewers that can, as well.

    As far as Surly not pasteurizing their beers… I just pulled what I thought was an interesting quote from their site, I wasn’t intending commentary one way or the other on that issue. A question, though: how do bottle-conditioned beers, like imported Belgians I’ve had, deal with the non-pasteurization issue?

    I also can’t speak to the negative poo-pooing of canned beers for the past 25 or so years, and the new "revolutionary" attitude. Personally, I’m figuring out *why* I have "can prejudice" and the WSJ quote hits the nail on the head (as a symbolic attitude that percolated into the national consciousness)… but I see no reason why *any* beer shouldn’t be canned, I actually think it’s a terrific container technology that can make a lot more sense than bottling. Other than being introspective, I’ve never (that I can think of) written or said anything against canning.

    …Interestingly, I think part of the "can prejudice" stems from homebrewing, where canning is simply not an option. There’s something about the hands-on process of cleaning bottles and bottling your own beer–emphasis on "bottle" here–that (for me, anyway) nurses a certain affection for bottles… an appreciation for the fruit of your labor, perhaps.

    Interested in hearing your thoughts.

  4. Bob Skilnik says:

    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.

    And that goes back to the Surly Brewery. Why, oh why would someone want to can a non-pasteurized AND unfiltered beer? While we can all work ourselves into a lather about those horrible distributors and retailers, why fight windmills? Instead, follow the brewing industry business model that has worked since 1935 (and that doesn’t include unfiltered beer). Rather than belittle the big breweries, look at them and copy their best practices.

    Maybe the reader is a (former) homebrewer who is used to a clump of yeast falling out of a bottle, but many customers will not tolerate a clump of dead yeasts or the results of a secondary fermentation when they open up a can of beer. And believe me, an unfiltered, non-pasteurized beer, sitting on a warm shelf has a much higher probability of going into a secondary fermentation than one that has been processed in the traditional manner.

    I am not being negative. I’m giving the reality of today’s market. During the course of writing a number of books on the history of brewing in Chicago and the development of the national brewing industry, especially how beers managed to leave saloons and wind up in our homes, there is a pattern that’s all too obvious; in the brewing industry, the phrase "history repeats itself" is very evident. Go back and find some brewing trade journals from the mid to late 1930s, read about the struggles that the industry went through with canning, and you’ll see that the industry has already gone through all of this, and that there’s a reason why no one cans non-filtered beer, especially if it’s not pasteurized too.

    If it was such a great idea, why isn’t everybody doing it?

  5. Jon says:

    Bob, thanks for the clarification– that’s good stuff. It’s good to get the historical perspective from someone who’s done serious time in the research-and-writing trenches. :)

    I suspected a large part of the resistance to canning was cost… maybe canning *is* "revolutionary" for microbrewers now, because the cost has come down enough to make it truly viable…?

    Something to think about.