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A brief history of beer cans   Logo
By : Beer Adelaide
April 2016
The last 12 months has seen an explosion of canned micro-brewery beers in Australia, with the local boys Pirate Life leading the way. Now Barossa Valley Brewing and Vale Brewing have installed new canning lines, canned microbrewery beer is here to stay.

Beer cans are much older than most people think, the story of canned beer started in the Napoleonic wars with the invention of canned food, the French army developed a method of preserving food in metal containers. The process was perfected over the next 50 years and by the end of the 1800’s canned food was common place.

With the advent of World War 1 the use of canned food skyrocketed, the cans were lighter, and more durable than glass containers, as well as kept the light away from the food inside. Though the traditional containers for beverages stayed the same, with glass bottles and wooden casks. The main problem with putting beer into cans was to maintain the internal pressure without the can deforming. During and after World War One the process of canning improved and by the 1920’s the technology to put a pressurized drink into a can was perfected, but in 1920 the United States introduced prohibition, which put back the invention of canned beer.

By 1933 the popularity of prohibition was waning and the American Can Company saw a new market to sell to, so the engineers developed a 12 Fluid Ounce can capable of holding pressurized beer. Next they needed a guinea pig to trial the cans, ACC approached Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company who also saw a marketing edge selling beer in a lightweight easy to identify container. The canning line was installed in November 1933 and a test brew was canned in December 1933, the beer was Krueger’s Special Beer, a 3.5% lager which was the strongest beer that was allowed under prohibition. The can looked like a standard soup can with straight sides and flat tops and bottoms, the can was opened with a churchkey can opener that required a drinking hole and an air hole.

After the repeal of prohibition in January 1935 the Krueger Brewery were ready to start ramping up production and with the large quantities of beer was the new beer cans to hold the beer. The first two drinks were Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale. Local beer drinkers instantly took to the new cans and other breweries installed canning lines including the large national brewery of Pabst. While canned beer was popular people did not like having to carry a specific opener around with them so by September a new top to the can was invented to make it like a normal beer bottle, the new top was named a cone top as the can had a neck with a crown seal applied.

It took 23 more years for Australian breweries to take the plunge and start canning their product, with Carton United Brewing being the first, canning there Foster’s Lager and Victoria Bitter in 1958. The other large Australian breweries started canning in the early 1960’s. The South Australian Brewing Company started canning West End XXX Bitter, West End Stout, Southwark Bitter and Adelaide Light, with Coopers starting soon after with their Sparkling Ale, Best Extra Stout and Light Dinner Ale. All beer cans in Australia were the traditional flat top style requiring a churchkey to open.

By the 1970’s beer cans went through a revolution with cans being made from lightweight aluminum, and the top made easier to open with a pull tab. The customers loved the changes but unfortunately the pull tabs caused lots of problems with litter and the razor sharp sides. Several American states even went so far to ban the pull taps leaving the breweries to re-introduce the flat tops to cans. But by 1975 the canning companies had found a solution to the problem by putting the now familiar stay tab on the top of cans. The stay top is pushed into the beer unlike the pull tab that comes off the can, this way there is no litter and no sharp metal daggers hiding in the sand for unfortunate beach goers to step on.

The first Micro Brewery to can beer was Matilda Bay with assistance from their part owners Carlton United Breweries, several other small breweries dabbled with beer cans over the next 15 years. The microbrewery scene in America has really taken to beer cans, so much that new cheaper canning lines were developed that made beers cans an affordable container to use. The Australian microbreweries have taken note of the canning revolution in the U.S. and I think we will see most medium to large sized micros can their products from now on.



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