Nearly 80 years ago, Richmond revolutionized the beer world. For it was in this Southern city in 1935 that canned beer — complete with how-to instructions — was first sold.
Krueger's Cream Ale and its punch-top can became an instant hit, propelling the humble beer can to iconic status. That is, until Americans returned to bottles and the beloved craft brews they contained, a cultural turn that left canned beer looking decidedly low-brow.
But more recently, craft brewers rediscovered cans, realizing they weren't just retro-cool, but with a few tweaks might even be able to kick bottles in the can.
Welcome to the beer can revolution, 2013-style. Technology once again is transforming how Americans drink their beer.
Today, Budweiser sells a bow tie-shaped can that mirrors its iconic logo and drinkers know their Coors Light is cold when the mountains on the can turn blue. Sam Adams Boston Lager comes in cans designed to improve the taste, and now Sly Fox Brewing sells beer in "topless" cans designed to turn into cups when opened.
"It's not your father's beer can anymore," says Jim Koch, founder and chairman of Boston Beer Co., the maker of Sam Adams.
In Tampa, highly rated craft brewer Cigar City Brewing switched the bulk of its beer sold in stores to cans in the past couple of years.
Both craft brewers and craft beer drinkers are coming around to the idea of cans. More affordable supplies and canning equipment also are helping the boom. In 2002, just one craft brewery was using cans. Now about 300 breweries offer close to 1,000 beers in cans, said CraftCans.com, a site that tracks the canned beer revolution.
"Craft beer in cans is becoming more mainstream each and every day," says Brian Thiel, regional sales manager with packaging firm Crown Holdings. "The stigma that has existed continues to get lifted."
Sly Fox Brewing decided to go all the way and blew the lid off its cans — really.
In April, the Pennsylvania brewery began selling its Helles Golden Lager in cans with a peel-off top. While litter laws prevent it from being sold in all states it distributes in, the can is getting noticed. The brewery also sells its flagship Pikeland Pils in the same cans exclusively at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
"There have been a lot of different mini-innovations … but never that important to craft beer," said Sly Fox brewmaster Brian O'Reilly.
Sly Fox still cans several of its beers in traditional aluminum cans and defends the polished package as a perfect fit for craft beer.
While many of the innovations tout a better drinking experience, there is a marketing element to it, too. "What's next may be cool, it may be setting themselves apart," Thiel said. "But there is a point where it becomes gimmicky and it loses its functionality and its form and its integrity."