Beer Can Appreciation Day

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Beer Can Appreciation Day

79 years ago in Newark, New Jersey The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company took a huge risk and released Krueger’s Cream Ale and Krueger’s Finest Beer to market in steel flat top cans. “It was a test just to see what would happen and breweries around America at that time that had salesmen calling on them for years trying to get them into canning just sat back and watched to see what would happen,” says local beer can collector Joe Prin. “This little tiny brewery, what we would call a craft brewery today, watched its sales rise over 200% almost immediately.” They were the first brewery to commercially package in cans and in doing so they unknowingly started a revolution. By the end of the year a number of other breweries had started canning and 160 million beer cans were sold. That number jumped to over 1 billion beer cans sold in 1941. By 1960 beer cans had surpassed bottles in sales. They’re currently the number one container for packaged beer and with more and more breweries popping up daily, they continue to gain market share.

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A visual evolution of the beer can

With a rich history comes a group of individuals that collect and celebrate the beer can. The BCCA (formerly known as the Beer Can Collectors of America, currently the Brewery Collectibles Club of America) was founded in 1970 and currently has over 4000 active members across all 50 states as well as 27 foreign countries. The club publishes a bimonthly magazine, hosts an annual trading and exhibiting “can”vention for collectors, and remains the authority on beer can collecting. The Vice President of the Gem State BCCA chapter, Joe Prin, is keeping the hobby alive and kicking in the Treasure Valley and I was able to sit down with him over a beer to discuss the hobby and his collection.

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A snapshot of Joe’s collection

Joe started collecting at the age of 14 after finding a number of unique cans on a hike near Lookout Mountain overlooking Golden, Colorado. “We just kind of lined them out on a shelf at one point, and away it went,” he says of the birth of his collection. Before he knew it he had several hundred cans and he discovered he was not alone in the hobby. Another collector in town had a larger collection of high quality cans and took Joe under his wing, teaching him about the hobby and the etiquette involved.

The start of his collection came at a turning point in the canning industry, the beginning of the end for the pull-tab. This older style lid was opened by a ring attached to a teardrop shaped portion of the lid which was removed and discarded. With the birth of the all aluminum can in the late 1950’s this had become the preferred style, but the environmental concerns of the pull-tab being discarded improperly led to the rise of the sta-tab, the modern soda and beer can lid where the tab remains riveted to the lid. The sta-tab was introduced in the mid 1970’s and, though it has seen minor variations, has remained largely unchanged since.

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Joe Prin and his cans

Joe’s current collection contains roughly 12,000 unique cans and that number is always on the rise. “Each and every month now with the craft canning revolution that’s taking place … there’s almost 200 [new] cans,” says Prin. He goes through periodic organizations to integrate new additions into his collection, which is housed in a barn on his property, but with so many new breweries coming to market it’s all he can do to stay on top of it. His collection varies widely, from the oldest steel cans that required an opener to the cone top cans of the World War II era to modern cans and even 5L steel kegs. While some collectors focus on certain time periods or sizes, Joe is happy with anything that crosses his path.

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One of Joe’s most interesting cans, a Hornung can with a unique feature set. This is the only known can of this type.

With a collection so vast there is some notable value in some of these cans, enough so that Joe has them covered on his homeowners insurance. The nicer examples of classic and rare cans will sell for several hundred to several thousand dollars at auction, which leads some collectors to be in the hobby for monetary gain. However Joe isn’t in it for the money, rather he enjoys the hobby and the camaraderie that comes with trading with seasoned collectors. “The hospitality, it’s not only a handshake, it’s an open armed bear hug that you get from anywhere in the country,” he says, speaking fondly of visits to other BCCA members collections.

There are nuances to collecting, primarily in opening the can. To keep the top pristine, cans are opened from the bottom using an older style church-key opener. Parallel slots are punched on either side of the bottom indent and one is enlarged into a triangle to allow a smooth pour. Cans are then rinsed, air dried, and shipped out or put on display. “I’ll store them in the fridge upside down, that’s my signal to the family members that you don’t just pop this one and recycle it, I want this one,” says Prin.

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Opening instructions on an early Pabst can

With the evolution of his collection, Joe’s tastes have shifted as well. Like many beer drinkers he started with the macro lagers but with craft styles making their way into cans he has opened up to new and different beers. Some recent brews he’s enjoyed include Oakshire’s Overcast Espresso Stout and Sockeye’s Double Dagger Imperial IPA, both of which showcase the wide variety of styles being packaged in cans. We discussed the homebrewing hobby, which is one that he is asked about a lot given his involvement in the beer scene. He stated it quite simply; “I’d rather enjoy the efforts of others.”

At the local level there are four Treasure Valley breweries canning beer; Crooked Fence, Payette, Slanted Rock, and Sockeye. The smaller and newer breweries have only released a couple unique cans but the oldest brewery of the bunch, Sockeye, is up to 32 unique labels. Joe is one of the only BCCA members in Boise and as he puts it, “This responsibility of being the supplier to other collectors nation wide kind of falls into my refrigerator.” When a new can comes out he will get two cases, the majority of which are traded away for new cans to add to his collection.

So what’s next for cans? “If you look at the timeline from the first beer can that came out in 1935 … if you start putting all these points [together] … we’re ready for another one in about 10 years,” says Prin. The possibilities are many, but Joe thinks it may come in the aluminum bottles that many breweries are starting to use or even in the new 360 Lid that Sly Fox Brewing is pioneering which allows the can to double as a drinking vessel after removing the pull tab style lid.

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The 360 Lid

As a celebration of the history of the beer can Sockeye Brewing will be celebrating National Beer Can Appreciation Day on January 24th. Joe will be in attendance with some of his collection and the brewery will have can specials all day.

For more information on beer can history visit Breweriana and the BCCA. Skål.

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