The Beer Can

Most of us think beer tastes better when drunk from a bottle or from a keg, either at the local watering hole, or in our own home. Yet despite this, estimates are that those who brew beer sell over 60% of their brew in cans. I will admit that cans have their place, they are much more easily transported, protect the beer inside from light, are 100% recyclable, are not subject to breakage and seem to be much more in their element at a tailgate than does a bottle. So the can seems to be the container of choice for all venues except the tavern and, sometimes, the home.

The history of the beer can is really very interesting. The first cans were made from steel and are now manufactured mostly from aluminum or, in some cases, tin.

These first cans were solid on both ends, without any mechanism to open the can. A separate device, often called a "churchkey" was needed to punch holes in the can to get the beer out. This device was a bottle opener on one end and had a sharp point on the other which was used to punch two holes in the can; one to let the beer out and a smaller on to let the air in. As this seemed to be something of a clumsy method, inventors were soon hard at work on designs for self-opening cans. As far back as 1936 the patent office was receiving applications for easier opening cans. Unfortunately, the steel construction of the cans and the state of technology of the time defeated these efforts.

The advent of aluminum soon gave inventors the edge they needed and in 1956 the first pull top was invented by a Canadian, Mikola Kondakow. This was followed quickly by the pull tab in 1962. This was the work of Ermal Cleon Fraze and he received a patent for his design in 1963. The first drinks sold with the new easier opening top were R.C. Cola and Diet-Rite Cola, both in 1964. The first beer sold in the new cans was Iron City Beer.

While the pull tab was a definite improvement, it did have drawbacks. It came off the can very easily and there was the possibility of accidentally swallowing it if it was dropped back in the can. The detached tabs were also bad for the environment as they were often thrown away carelessly. Work continued on improving the design and in 1975 Reynolds Metals developed the stay tab we are familiar with today and by the mid 1980s the stay tab design had almost fully replaced pull tabs in most of the world. Today only China and the middle east still produce cans with pull tabs.

The next modification to the design of the can was the "large mouth" can introduced by Mountain Dew in the late 1990s. This larger opening allowed a smoother pour as the pressure difference between the inside of the can and the outside was more quickly equalized.

The most modern modification to can design is undoubtedly the "cold activated can" from Coors. This can has a picture of mountains printed on the can in "Thermo-Chromic" ink that changes color from white to blue when the can and its contents are properly chilled. While this is the most innovated feature of the can and is the subject of a great deal of advertising, the can also boasts a "frost brew liner" that "lock in frost brewed taste and a "vented wide mouth". Clearly, at this time, Coors has the lead in innovated beer can design.

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