Happy 77th Birthday, Canned American Beer

mckenzie brothersTake off, eh?/Promo image

It is that time of year, the end of January when the anniversary of the first beer can rolls around, and somebody writes an article about its history. Andrew Sullivan picks up the story from Rob Ogden, who writes that "Despite the beer can’s initial success, it didn’t actually surpass the bottle market until the 1960s."

That's the real story, the reason that hosers north of the border are drinking their beer from bottles and Americans are drinking it from BPA lined genderbending disposable aluminum cans. Canned beer became the American standard with the completion of the interstate highway system, which let brewers build massive centralized breweries and ship the stuff all over the country by truck. But you couldn't do that with returnable bottles, as the distribution and handling of bottles was a local business. So the brewers took their huge savings from their massive, efficient beer factories and put it into advertising and price cutting, and put almost every local brewery out of business.

North of the border, there is a deposit on every bottle, and 98% of them are returned and refilled dozens of times.

beer refill ratesLloyd Alter with info from Heather Rogers/CC BY 2.0

The dominance of the American beer can is a story of the victory of centralized mass production instead of local, big business destroying small, the change from a reusable container to a disposable one, the switch from short-range shipping of a locally consumed product to the logistics of nationwide diesel transport, from healthy glass to BPA epoxy lined aluminum cans. It is nothing to celebrate.

Read a longer version of this story from past birthdays: Happy Birthday Canned Beer: 75 Years of Waste and Lousy Beer and Celebrating 76 Years of a Disposable Culture and Lousy Beer

Happy 77th Birthday, Canned American Beer
Yet another history of the beer can that misses the point: Canned beer isn't about convenience, it is about corporatization

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