When we drink beer from a can, we should thank first of all the valiant Napoleon, who, in 1795, during his early military successes, established a prize of 12,000 francs for the invention of a method of preserving food allowing its armies to conquer new lands without any anxiety about ongoing supplies. The challenge was taken a dozen years later by a British merchant, Peter Durand, with his invention of a steel can covered with a layer of tin. The food stored in it preserved well, but the thick walls of the can had to be opened with a hammer, and – what’s worse – the inventor was unable to produce more than 10 such containers daily.
To begin thinking of packing beer into cans one had to wait until the 1930s, when technology allowed to develop containers which would effectively resist the pressure produced by the golden drink. The company that was working on how to improve the cans during the dark age of American Prohibition, had to look for a long time for a company willing to try out the new invention – and in spite of the fact that it offered free installation of the entire machinery.
Brewers were sceptical about the new invention, doubting if the metal container will be able to attract at least one beer-lover, used to classic bottles. Among those in doubt, however, a courageous one emerged – the Krueger brewery from New Jersey. And though there was more desperation than bravado in the innovative step of the then troubled brewery, the decision on production in 1935 of the first Crueger Cream Ale can proved to bring great success. The consumers liked the new packaging for the convenience in relishing the taste of their favourite drink. Already a year after the introduction of the packaging with conical lid closed with a cap, the Krueger brewery increased its sales five-fold and began to catch up with such domestic market tycoons as Anheuser-Busch or Schlitz.
Another stage in development of the new packaging was the invention of the flat-lid can in 1940s. But the true revolution came in 1970s with the replacement of the way of opening the can with the use of a can-opener with a new aluminium top with a fastened ring which allowed to reach the foamy content with one movement. This innovation increased the sales of canned beer by almost half a million units in the UK only. Another progressive step was made only a dozen years later with the introduction of a closure where after the opening of the can the metal ring did not separate from the top and did not contribute to the dramatic littering of streets, which became a problem with the growing popularity of the can.
The can came late to Poland, at a time when on the other side of the ocean the packaging had 50-percent share in the total sales of beer. The fact that cans were seen more often on collectors’ shelves, who brought them from abroad, than on store shelves, was due first of all to poor access of Polish breweries to foreign technologies. First cans appeared in our country in late 1980s, and the 0,33-litre Okocim can, produced for the brewery’s bottling facility in Legnica, is believed to be one of the oldest. This trend became something universal in Poland only after mid-1990s, when breweries, with the support of foreign capital from incoming investors, could purchase adequate production lines. In such a way, in 1996 aluminium packaging with beer from Tychy saw the daylight. In the same time beer began to be bottled into cans in Lech brewery in Poznań and Dojlidy brewery in Białystok. Today, the lines used in these facilities can bottle 60-100,000 cans an hour.
At present, we can speak of balance in the structure of sales of beer in bottles and cans, and Poland became an unquestioned European leader in the sales of beer packaged this way. This is proved by the nine-fold increase in sales of canned beer since the moment of its introduction. This is contrary to the belief, still held by certain people, that canned beer tastes worse than beer in bottles or kegs. And that such an opinion is more false than true is proved also by the growing popularity of 5-litre party-kegs, manufactured in Tychy, which became an indispensable element of parties or barbecues.
Can the can still surprise us in one way or another? Probably yes. If we are to believe the resourceful Japanese, we might soon expect a can which – after the beer is drunk – can become an ecological and tasteful snack. Cheers!
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