On January 24, 1935, the first cans of beer were made available for commercial distribution. And 81 years later, in an effort to bring new meaning to the term “fashionably late to the party,” our industry is still tripping over its collective self to declare craft beer canning a “new” trend we should take note of.
Okay, okay. I’m being harsh and painting a portrait with an overly large brush made up of my own peevish annoyance. The reality is yes, it’s true. Craft in cans as the norm is a relatively new development – something I wrote about in my own column back in 2014. (One of my favorite publications, All About Beer Magazine, covered it back in 2013, as well.) This is because decades ago, putting a good beer in a can was a death sentence, thanks to the ingrained – and often accurate – cultural and sensory image of cheap canned beer that tastes metallic. Lucky for us beer drinkers, that image is now as outdated as it is inaccurate thanks to advancements in science and technology.
For the past three years, however, it seems like a new article declaring the “emergence” of canning is published every day. This is then compounded by the fact that each unveiling of a once-bottled craft going into a can is somehow considered deserving of a brewery press release and parade-level fanfare. From a marketing perspective, I do admit I understand the latter. If you’re a brewery, you want your loyal drinkers to know of any significant packaging changes, so they know what to look for on shelves and don’t unwittingly choose a competitor’s product because they can’t find you.
That said, I am begging beer writers the world over to stop dubbing the canning of craft a trend “on the rise.” Is it becoming more commonplace? Yes. But it’s not new. To put it in fashion terms, a can of beer is a classic, like the little black dress. And the little black dress – or “LBD” as it’s commonly called – will never be considered a new trend, no matter how it may be reimagined or repackaged by modern designers or magazine editors.
(Patrick says the little black dress comparison is a “weird analogy.” But he admits that’s probably because he’s a dude.
Personally, I can’t remember any summer in my adulthood that didn’t feature the iconic can of beer – even back in the dark ages, when my shameful love affair with Malibu rum was at its Black Eyed Peas-fueled peak in my early 20s.
Yes, I was that girl, though I did not “Woo!” We all have our phases.
But while the recent and unrelenting refrain of the craft beer canning trend is the “hard-hitting” journalism equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, there is one thing I have enjoyed. The evolution of the beer can from a utilitarian vessel into a work of art. While labels slapped onto bottles are often well-designed and beautiful, cans provide a full surface-area canvas that can’t be beat.
Still, we’ve moved (or should have moved) well beyond the idea that breweries using cans for their packaging is brand new information. But if you’re a writer who is absolutely hellbent on covering the majesty and wonder that is canned beer, there are so many other stories out there – can art is just one small aspect. For example, mobile canning operations are allowing smaller breweries to get in on the fun, without having to fund their own in-house canning line.
All of my grumblings aside, Happy National Can Appreciation Day, everybody. Beer cans are definitely something to be excited about – for me, they’re much less breakable. I just think it’s time to expand the conversation beyond the mere acknowledgement of their existence.