A Brief History of the Beer Can

istock.com/SlobodanMiljevic
istock.com/SlobodanMiljevic

National Beer Can Appreciation Day is your day to celebrate the blood, sweat, tears, and ingenuity that went into you being able to crack open a cold one.

Before Prohibition, the main vessels for consuming beer were bottles and glasses used to down draft suds. But Pabst and Anheuser-Busch knew there was a better way, so they attempted to engineer a functional beer can in the 1920s. Unfortunately, their plans fizzled in the wake of the 18th Amendment.

In the early 1930s, just before Prohibition was officially repealed, the American Can Company created a usable beer can prototype that New Jersey's Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company tested with just 2000 cans of their Krueger’s Special Beer. The 12-ounce cans offered the highest alcohol content possible at the time—3.2 percent—and received rave reviews from 91 percent of those dedicated drinkers who were invited to partake in the first batch, with the vast majority of them saying it tasted more like draft beer than its bottled counterpart (which was a good thing).

Given the production and shipping costs for heavy bottles, canned beer was financially smarter for breweries in the 1930s, too. Bottles were also returnable at the time, which not only added another shipping cost for breweries, but necessitated more man-power for inspection of whether or not a bottle was fit for reuse. Which is why the invention of the beer can was so revolutionary—and why it has an official holiday on the calendar (January 24).

Since its invention in 1933, the beer can has undergone several remodels and tweaks.

The Flat-Top Can

Beer cans started with a flat-top design, where you needed to puncture holes in two opposite sides of the top for the beer to pour out properly. Although it was just a standard cylinder, these cans were almost unwieldy. They were originally made from tin, then steel, which made them tall and heavy; switching to aluminum eventually made them more manageable. Pabst popularized the flat-top can in 1935 as the first large brewing company to distribute canned beer.

The Cone-Top Can

Also in 1935, the G. Heilemann Brewing Company and Schlitz switched to a cone-top (or spout-top) style of canning. After some dissatisfaction with the flat-top, the spout-top offered a more convenient way to swig suds; its opening resembled the opening of a bottle, but with the promised quality of a can. Cone-top cans were embraced by smaller brewing companies because their factories were better-suited to cone-top production. As breweries continued to upgrade, though, cone-tops cans went nearly entirely out of production by around 1960.

The Pull-Tab Can

It wasn’t until 1963 that the beer can underwent its most revolutionary—and lasting—change. The Pittsburgh Brewing Company began canning their beloved Iron City Beer with a then-brand-new pull-tab style can. The pull tab-style can (also known as a tab top or pop top) required no accessory other than your hand to be opened. Just pull the tap to rip open the spout and enjoy a crisp, cold beverage. Shortly thereafter, Schlitz switched over to the pull-tab, and by 1965 it was the can standard among breweries big and small.

The Stay-Tab Can

What the pull-tab can offered in convenience, it lacked in waste efficiency. The pulled tabs often ended up on the ground, causing litter and some significant environmental issues. Animals—both wild and the domesticated kind—regularly attempted to snack on the shiny (and sharp) metal tabs they'd find, and ended up choking on them. When dropped in places where people often went shoe-less, like the beach or a backyard, they were a hazard to bare feet. Then along came the stay-tab.

Introduced in 1975 by Kentucky's Falls City Brewing Company, the stay-tab can is the one we use today—the kind of can that you can pop open without fear of a stray tab wreaking havoc on your feet, or your dog. Which is yet one more thing to be grateful for on National Beer Can Appreciation Day.

Meet Horatio, the Old-Timey ‘Smart’ Speaker From Hendrick’s Gin

Hendrick's Gin
Hendrick's Gin

The tech news you almost definitely heard about this week was Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone 11, a characteristically sleek, user-friendly gadget meant to make your life as modern and efficient as possible. What you might not have heard about was the release of Horatio, a very genteel, relatively smart speaker from the creators of Hendrick’s Gin.

Horatio is not your father’s speaker. In fact, he’s more like your grandfather as a speaker. The tabletop device is made from brass, leather, and copper, and looks like the offspring of a phonograph and a candlestick telephone. He won’t eavesdrop on your conversations, but he also won’t necessarily answer your questions—his slightly snide, British-accented responses range from commenting on your outfit to telling you that it’s “a good day to carry an umbrella in one hand and a cocktail in the other.” If your cocktail happens to be a martini, you can rest it on Horatio’s built-in martini holder.

Hendrick's gin horatio speaker
Hendrick's Gin

The device was released by Hendrick’s new Department of Not-So-Convenient Technology, the intentional antithesis to virtually every other existing department of technology. While most people are optimizing their home offices with minimalist decor and lightweight robot assistants, Horatio is a mascot for those of us who miss the dusty, dimly lit, leather-covered comfort of Grandfather’s study.

He’s not unlike Hendrick’s Gin itself, whose manufacturing process is old-fashioned and utterly laborious. It’s made in a tiny Scottish seaside village on two types of stills, infused with 11 botanicals, and combined with rose and cucumber essences.

Hendrick's gin horatio speaker
Hendrick's Gin

To add to the intrigue, only five Horatios exist in the world. Each unique, handmade device costs $1113, and, unfortunately, they’re currently sold out. While you’re waiting for one to hit an auction block near you, kick back with a glass of gin and dive into the world of fancy Prohibition cocktails here.

11 Common Misconceptions About Beer

iStock
iStock

If beer only conjures up images of frat boys pounding cans of the cheap stuff or doughy sports fans reveling in the alcoholic refreshment before, during, and after a big game, think again. Beer has come a long way, baby, and many of the preconceived notions about the beverage are decidedly unfair, as evidenced by the following 11 fabrications.

1. Beer should be served ice cold.

All of those neon ice cold beer signs are actually bad news for beer drinkers. To properly enjoy their beer, it should be served at 44 degrees Fahrenheit (with a little leeway depending on the type of beer you’re drinking—a barrel-aged Stout, for example, should be served only lightly chilled). The reason is that taste buds become dead to the taste of the drink when it is served any colder, which means you’re not really tasting anything or getting the most enjoyment out of your beer.

2. Frosted beer mugs keep it classy.

Piggybacking on the falsehood that beer should be guzzled cold, it also shouldn’t be served in a frosted beer mug. Would you serve wine in a frosted glass? No. An intensely cold beer mug will also numb your senses to the taste of the beer.

3. All dark beers are heavy.

If you’ve been avoiding dark beers because you fear their intensity, you’ve been sorely misguided. “People naturally assume they are heavier,” says Hallie Beaune, a rep for Allagash Brewing Company and author of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. “I think it’s that connection to Guinness, which promotes itself as creamy and almost like a meal, that’s the feeling they give in their commercials. For a lot of people that’s the first dark beer they’ve had so they assume they’re all similar when, really, dark beers are just dark because of the roast level of the malt that’s used in the beer.”

4. Guinness is inherently frothy.

Sure, Guinness is served all creamy and delicious-looking, but Beaune explains it has less to do with the beer itself and everything to do with the tap most stouts use, which has more nitrogen than the standard tap (generally a mix of nitrogen and CO2). To deliver all that frothiness, a stout faucet, which has a long, narrow spout, is used.

5. Drinking beer from the bottle is the best way to enjoy it.

Sure, a bottle may look more refined than a can, but it’s still not the appropriate vessel. “Drinking beer from the bottle is another no-no, mostly because what you taste comes from your olfactory senses from your nose, so if you take a sip of something from that kind of bottle your nose isn’t participating at all,” says Beaune. “It’s too small for you to get a whiff of the beer. Just like if you were drinking red wine out of a wine bottle, you wouldn’t really be able to evaluate that wine.”

6. You can store beer anywhere.

Think again! All beer should be stored in a refrigerator. It responds best to cold, dark storage.

7. "Skuny" is just a cute word for gone bad.

There is actually a reason why seemingly rancid beer is termed "skunky." “Light can hurt beer—they call it lightstruck,” says Beaune. “The light interacts with the hops in beer (the four ingredients in beer are malt, water, hops and yeast), and it can actually have this chemical reaction that creates a smell that’s the same as a skunk gives off, which is why you hear about skunky beer.”

8. All beer bottles are created equal.

Darker bottles are important. Clear or green bottles may be pretty, but they’re not doing much to protect your beer from light. Dark beer bottles work best to help retain its intended flavor.

9. Canned beer means cheap beer.

Cans are actually a great way to protect beer, but in the old days they would often give the beverage an aluminum taste. “Most of the cans the craft breweries are using nowadays have a water-based liner so the beer isn’t actually touching the aluminum,” says Beaune. “It can be really good for beer. Cans heat up and cool down very quickly, too, so you obviously want to keep them cold.”

10. Beer is much simpler than wine.

You’ve got your four ingredients—malt, yeast, water and hops—what could be more basic than that? Manipulating those ingredients in various ways will give you different varieties, but breweries are doing some really cool stuff by adding flavors you’d never dream would work so well in beer. “A lot of the flavor in beer comes from the malt or the hops or yeast, but then there’s all of this freedom in beer,” says Beaune. “We did a beer at Allagash called Farm to Face, which is a pretty tart and sour beer. We added fresh peaches to it from a local farm. You can’t do that with wine—you can’t add peaches. People add everything you can imagine to beer like pineapple, coconut, every fruit—there are no rules. That’s one of the fun things about beer, it’s a lot like cooking, you can add rosemary, you can add whatever you want. Everybody experiments. It keeps the beer world really interesting.”

11. Beer will give you a beer belly, but cocktails won't.

Sure, anything in excess will contribute to weight gain, but beer is hardly the most calorie-laden drink you’ll find in a bar. Much of the flack beer gets (i.e. the “beer belly”) goes back to the fallacy that beer is particularly heavy. “Most glasses of wine are pretty high in alcohol and a lot of cocktails are way higher in calories,” says Beaune. “If you drink a margarita that’s one of the highest calorie things you can drink.”

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