Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The History of Beer in Cans

By William Brand
Wednesday, June 14th, 2006 at 9:11 am in Uncategorized.

I wrote about two beers in cans being sold by 21st Amendment Brewery – Restaurant -Bar in San Francisco in my column today in The Oakland Tribune. Both beers, an outrageously hopped 7 percent IPA and Watermelon Wheat, a 5.5 percent wheat, barley blend made with real watermelon, are excellent. Love their slogan: Take back the can. Their argument makes sense. Canned beer has become synonymous with lager swill. But it doesn’t have to be lager or swill.

I also promised some history about beer in cans. Who would have thought that beer cans have history and there are people who care about them. But, it’s true and thanks to the web, there’s a lot about beer can history at our fingertips. Here are a few factoids and a couple of good links:

According to an article in Beer Can News, as the end of American Prohibition neared, American Can Co. made a number of breakthroughs, including stronger cans and a coating inside the can that prevented the beer from reacting with the tin can. Yes, early beer cans were tin, not aluminum. They also had a sloping top, much like the cans used today for brake fluid.

Big brewers, who were just about to return to production after 13 years of Prohibition weren’t interested in cans. But the Gottfried Krueger Brewery, Newark, NJ took a chance. Besides, American Can installed the equipment free.

On Jan. 24, 1935, the first Krueger’s Finest Beer in cans reached market in Richmond, VA. Cans were a hit and, according to Beer Can News, by the end of 1935, 37 American brewers were selling beers in cans.

The first English brewer to can beer was Felinfoel, Llanelli,Wales. The idea spread quickly in the UK as well as the U.S.

Adolph Coors, Golden, CO. introduced the first aluminum beer cans in 1958 – slim, 7 oz. cans that I remember well. In high school, the cool (and stupid) thing to do was to scoot across the state line into Wyoming and buy Coors.

There are lots of milestones in candom: In 1963, Schlitz introduced steel cans with an aluminum top that had a pull tab, a kind of ring that you could hook your finger in and open the can.Link
Until then, all beer cans required a special opener – popularly known as a “church key.’’ One pushed the pointed end into the can, hooking the lip over the rim of the can, applied pressure and with a fizz – usually – the can opened. I picked this picture from the web here.

The all-aluminum beer can, using a technology different than the first Coors 7-ouncers came out in the mid-1960s, with Coors and Hamms, among others, leading the way. According to an aluminum encyclopedia “The modern aluminum beverage can is not only lighter than the old steel or steel-and-aluminum can, it also does not rust, it chills quickly, its glossy surface is easily imprintable and eye-catching, it prolongs shelf life, and it is easy to recycle.’’

Jumping ahead, a number of craft brewers have begun selling beer in cans – most using an inexpensive canning setup, invented by a Canadian company and sold by American can makers.

As I said in my column today (Wednesday, June 14, 2006) the first craft brewer to make news with cans was Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, CO. (It’s in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains 14 miles north of Boulder.) First beer was Dale’s Pale Ale, next was Old Chub, a Scotch-style ale.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Brewing has been selling canned Brooklyn Lager for some time. In an e-mail to, brewmaster Garrett Oliver says, “We did it because there are many places where glass isn’t allowed – golf courses, stadia, airplanes, etc. We pretty much limit the cans to those places. Canning technology is now good enough that the flavor of the beer in cans is equal or superior to that in bottles. Like screw-caps on wine, [a can] still carries some stigma, but I think that’s disappearing slowly.”

The Ale Street News , in an article by Paul Sullivan, did a canned beer tasting last fall. They discovered a number of obscure little breweries churning out good beer in cans.

Anyway, enough for cans already. I’m exhausted. Bye.

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  • Dan B

    Those cans that looked like brake fluid cans are called conetops. The lining inside was called keglined, this was a thin coating so you would not taste metal when you drank your brew