In the long story of beer, the beer can is a relative new comer. The first canned beer didn’t show up until after the end of American Prohibition. But in the last 70 years beer and cans have become inseparable. And cans aren’t just for cheap beer anymore. Some really good beer has been showing up in cans.
The first beer can appeared in the carefully chosen test market of Richmond, Virginia. The American Can Company had been experimenting with the idea of packaging beer in cans since 1909. They knew that canned beer would offer breweries lots of advantages. Bottles add a lot of expensive weight to shipping and as some of the bigger brewers were distributing their beer further all the time they were looking for ways to cut costs. Also most bottles were returnable then which further added to their cost. Returned bottles had to be hand sorted for chips or cracks which made them unusable.
Cans offered lightweight packaging and, the metal being cheap, would not have to be returned. Cans also offered the marketing department a much larger surface area for labeling. But cans came with some significant challenges. The first was the reaction that beer has with many metals. It wouldn’t do to deliver cleverly packaged beer if the product was undrinkable. A practical lining had to be developed. Another challenge to canning beer was the pressure of carbonated beer. Previously canned products only had to protect the contents from the outside under relatively equal pressure conditions. But carbonated beer had to not only be protected but it had to be contained. The cans would have to be able to contain up to 80 pounds per inch of pressure.
But Prohibition put a halt to any hopes of selling beer no matter how well packaged and the project was shelved.