Craft brewers are realizing the benefits of canning their wares (cheaper to ship, no chance of lightstrike) and jumping on the aluminum bandwagon. Here’s a rundown of how the humble can got to where it is today.
The stage is set for the first can when Napoleon offers a 12,000-franc reward for a way to preserve food for his military. Thank the little guy the next time you pop open a cold one.
Napoleon’s challenge is met by “the father of canning,” Nicolas Appert. The Frenchman’s simple glass sterilization process quickly spreads, setting the stage for tin canners yet to come.
British inventor and merchant Peter Durand patents the tin can. He brings his idea overseas, and Americans finally get their hands on some cans.
Gail Borden receives a patent for the first canned liquid: condensed milk.
The American Can Co. submits a patent for its new process of lining cans with tarlike “brewers pitch.” Within a year, the substance is replaced by enamel, and the beer-ready “keglined” can is born.
Krueger Brewing sells the nation’s first canned brews: Krueger’s Cream Ale and Krueger’s Finest Beer. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread—which was only seven years old at the time.
America’s favorite block of canned meat, SPAM, debuts. The first SPAM joke is created shortly thereafter.
Troops fighting in WWII rely heavily on canned rations. Back home, Americans do their patriotic duty and take their cans to be melted down and used in the war effort.
The lowly can becomes high art with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.
Ermal Fraze replaces the cumbersome pull-tab by creating the pop-top that still graces cans to this day. The reign of the can opener is destroyed in one fell swoop.
The times, they are a-changin’: canned beer outsells bottled beer for the first time. The war between glass and aluminum gets serious.
Coca-Cola becomes the first canned beverage to be consumed in outer space aboard the Challenger space shuttle.
Aluminum gets a new twist when Big Sky Brewing bottles its popular Moose Drool brown ale in the United States’ first aluminum bottle.
Tempra Technology creates a self-chilling can that drops its own temperature 30 degrees in three minutes. Twelve years later and we’re still waiting.
Colorado’s Oskar Blues becomes the first American craft brewer to can its beers exclusively.
The world’s largest celebration of canned beer, appropriately named CANFEST, debuts. Coors Light introduces color-changing mountains on Cold Activated cans; you know you’re good to go when the Rockies change from white to blue. And Craftcans.com launches to track the rising popularity of canned beer; more than 400 canned brews are currently available for can fans to tick.
In September, Great Crescent Brewery canned its Bourbon’s Barrel Stout; one month later, Tallgrass Brewing released the first canned tripel, Velvet Rooster, challenging the stigma of the packaging and the preconceptions of beer connoisseurs everywhere.
The canning craze continues. First out: aluminum-clad Sierra Nevada launches in California.
PLUS: In what is certainly the world’s biggest ode to the beer can, John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, began covering his Houston home with beer cans in 1968. Over the years, he added curtains, fencing and artwork made from cans, too, and the completed Beer Can House is estimated to contain more than 50,000 empties. Milkovisch died in 1988, but the house lives on as a tribute to recycling, and is open for tours.