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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Retro Gone Too Far

Pabst-itis gone wild:
Adrian Grenier, star of HBO's "Entourage," has teamed up with a Portland designer and two local homebrewers to bring back a way of drinking beer not seen since the era depicted in another cable hit: "Mad Men."

Over dinner at downtown Portland's Clyde Common in 2010, Grenier and former Nike designer Justin Hawkins got to talking about flat top beer cans, the metal cans your dad would open by puncturing two holes in the top with a steel opener called a churchkey. Popular throughout the 1940s and 50s, the flat top disappeared in the 1960s with the invention of the pull-tab.

On Monday, Grenier and Hawkins' brewery, Churchkey Can Co., canned its first batch, a pilsner recipe developed by Portland homebrewers Lucas Jones and Sean Burke. Hawkins says Churchkey's beer will pop-up in Portland beer shops and bars -- including Southeast Grand Avenue's Dig A Pony -- by early April. A recyclable steel churchkey is included with each six pack.
I fear this is a marketing idea in search of a beer. In an age of micro-computing and digital innovation, the young folks have fallen ever more nostalgic of a time of steel and factories. Breweries have used that nostalgia in an effort to sell regular, modern cans--which come on lines vastly cheaper than comparable bottling systems. I get that; you make a virtue out of necessity. But the cans sucked. They required you to use an opener, and this resulted in sharp edges and, if I understand history correctly, could contribute to a metallic taste. They were made of much heavier steel, which was a waste of resources (no idea how the current cans are made, but they are steel). There was a reason cans evolved: the new ones are better. It's like going back to old-school refrigerators because they looked cool.

This looks like yet another case of Sally's rule: beware a company selling packaging, not beer.


  1. It said Sean Burke played a hand in developing the recipe. Isn't he brewing for The Commons now?

    I know he has a ton of experience and credentials. It could be a solid pilsener if that's the case.

  2. I hope so. And I hope you can get it on tap!

  3. Hey Jeff, did you read what you wrote? The beer is being marketed in a flat top can so why would they waste their time and marketing dollars selling their product on draft?

    So was the Pilsner any good?

  4. Here's some more insight. Seemed to get an ok review.

    I'm curious what the price point will be for this. I wonder if it will be marked for the working class man. Or if they'll take the Rogue route by trying give the illusion of a high end product with higher pricing.

  5. Anon, it was a joke--though I don't always read what I write. (Another joke!)

  6. Matthew, I don't expect it to be cheap. Those cans have got to be expensive to produce. I wonder where the brewery and canning facilities are?

    But I hearby promise to judge the beer by the beer, not the packaging. And pilsner is a top five style for me.

  7. Steel cans? Seriously? I remember those stupid things. We don't need them back, regardless of what comes in them.

  8. It wasn't the opener that resulted in the metal taste, it was the soldered seam they used to hold the can together. Aluminum cans are 'punched' out of a puck of metal: no seam.
    That said...this is perhaps the dumbest thing I've seen in a while. (And I'm including Bud Light Platinum.)

  9. @Jeff, you write
    'Breweries have used that nostalgia in an effort to sell regular, modern cans--which come on lines vastly cheaper than comparable bottling systems. I get that; you make a virtue out of necessity.'

    Do you mean to diss modern cans as containers of craft beer?

    I like craft beer in modern cans; I accept the reported advantages of aluminum-can vis bottles.

  10. You can have it both ways. Cans may be better or not (I'm agnostic), but if what you can afford is a canning line, you're definitely going to be making the argument that they're better.

  11. Conetops. Wave of the hipster future.

  12. I heard there is another brewery in Portland that will only serve you beer in dried-out gourds (though they will fill old plastic 2-stroke oil bottles if you ask nicely).

  13. Jeff do you know how the cans will be recycled? Curious if you bring it to can recycling or must go to steel center.

  14. Nope, no idea. They're a low-information company at present. (Forgivable, given that they haven't even got a product on the shelves yet.)

  15. As a matter of fact...the product is on the shelves now. It was supposed to debut on the 15th of April, but I just picked up a 6 at the super market here in Seattle.

    The cans are heavy and they do have a seam. Not unlike a can of tomatoes. Mine exploded on my as soon as I punctured it, which may be intentional? Who knows. It's a little cloudy for an American Adjunct Lager, which is a style that doesn't really need any more entrants. The hops are a little too much and the malt not soft/sweet enough. For $10/6 pack you are definitely getting $5 worth of packaging. It is very cool packaging though and so I can see it catching on with people who are concerned about looking good.

    I hope 2 Beers got some good $$ from the guy from Entourage so they can go back to making good beer.