The canned beer revolution

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Beer currently accounts for about half of the $20 billion US beer industry.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In partnership with American Can Company, Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company delivered 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to loyal Krueger drinkers in Richmond, Virginia. Ninety-one percent of drinkers approved of the canned beer, prompting Krueger to greenlight further production.

At the end of the 19th century, cans were fundamental in the mass distribution of food, but it wasn’t until 1909 that the American Can Company made its first attempt at canning beer.

This was unsuccessful and the American Can Company would have to wait until the end of Prohibition in the United States before trying again. Finally, in 1933, after two years of research, American Can developed a can that was pressurized and had a special coating to prevent carbonated beer from chemically reacting with the can.

The canned beer concept proved to be a difficult sell, but Krueger overcame his initial reservations and became the first brewer to sell such a canned beverage in the United States.

The response was overwhelming—within three months, more than 80 percent of distributors were carrying Krueger’s canned beer. Competitors soon followed his example and, by the end of 1935, more than 200 million cans had been produced and sold.

The purchase of cans, unlike bottles, did not require the consumer to pay a deposit. The cans were also easier to stack, more durable, and took less time to cool down. As a result, its popularity continued to grow through the 1930s and then exploded during World War II, when American brewers shipped millions of cans of beer to soldiers abroad.

after the war, national brewers began to take advantage of the mass distribution made possible by cans and were able to consolidate their power on the once-dominant local breweries, which couldn’t control costs and operations as efficiently as their national counterparts.

Today, canned beer accounts for about half of the $20 billion US beer industry. Not all of this is coming from the big national brewers: Recently, there has been a renewed interest in canning from craft brewers and high-end beer sellers, who are realizing that cans ensure purity and flavor by avoiding light damage and oxidation.

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