Craft breweries breathe new life into lowly beer can

WASHINGTON — Jan. 24 is Beer Can Appreciation Day, marking the 82nd anniversary of the first commercially successful beer can, and the lowly can has enjoyed a remarkable comeback in recent years, thanks to the craft brewing industry.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the first canned beer went on sale on Jan. 24, 1935 as a marketing test in Richmond, Virginia, by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey.

Putting beer in cans began at the turn of the 20th century, but it took years to discover the technology that would stop the beer from interacting with the metal can.

By the late-1960’s, canned beer sales exceeded bottled beer sales. But cans maintained the perception of a lesser-quality product.

Cans have shed that lowbrow image lately.

“When we started DC Brau we really had to spend a lot of time talking to our buyers, convincing them that the canned package was not a sign of the quality of the beer inside, particularly at high-end restaurants,” DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall told WTOP.

“I think you almost entirely see that reputation gone now. We don’t get any apprehension from white tablecloth restaurants to serve a beer in a can,” he said.

Kasey Turner, co-founder of Jailbreak Brewing Co. in Laurel, Maryland, agrees that beer drinkers are more embracing of cans now.

“When we started back in 2014, I had quite a few tour guests comment that they didn’t like beer in cans because it tasted worse than beer from a bottle,” Turner says. “I don’t think I’ve heard that from anyone in at least a year.”

There are a number of advantages to cans over bottles.

“Number one, they look cool. You can get your branding all around the can and it really enables you to do some creative things when it comes to packaging,” Skall said. “Number two, and far more important, is that it’s actually better for the beer. Even with amber bottles is UV light penetrating into the beer and creating this skunk, off flavor. You never have to worry about that with a can.”

Cans are also easy to recycle and cost less to ship.

The image of the can has been further enhanced by the adoption of cans by some of the biggest players in the craft brew industry, like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.

Craft brewers now represent 12 percent market share of the overall beer industry. But because of their typically premium prices, the estimated $22.3 billion in retail sales in 2015 represents 21 percent of the retail market share, according to the Brewers Association.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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