America is famous for inventing the cocktail, but the United States is also home to another great drinking innovation: the beer can.
The first example was Krueger’s Finest Beer. Cans went on sale in 1933 in Richmond, Virginia. Although the brewery was located in Newark, New Jersey, according to The Oxford Companion to Beer, its owner, Gottfried Krueger, feared failure and didn’t want to test his new-fangled product in the Northeast. So instead 2,000 cans hit store shelves in the Old Dominion State, more than 300 miles away.
The timing was perfect. A thirsty America had just thrown off the shackles of Prohibition and the cans were a hit. So much so, in fact, that Krueger decided to can its other beer, too. The company’s full line went on sale 82 years ago today.
Krueger’s first cans featured the company’s Bauhaus-like logo of the letter “K” formed by a waiter’s striding body carrying, of course, a tray of beers. Pabst and Schlitz soon followed suit, and by the summer of 1935, according to The Oxford Companion to Beer, more than three dozen breweries canned their brews.
Now, big and small breweries alike use cans to create eye-catching packaging—some so cool it can be tough to throw the empties away.
To honor such a major milestone in American drinking, here are some of my current favorite beer can designs on store shelves today.
THE BROOKLYN BREWERY
Nearly 30 years ago, Brooklyn Brewery cofounders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter got lucky and were able to convince renowned graphic designer Milton Glaser to create the logo for their brand. (Fun fact: Glaser convinced the duo to shorten their company’s name from Brooklyn Eagle Brewery to Brooklyn Brewery.) The design still stands out on store shelves and Glaser continues to create the brand’s packaging.
FLYING DOG BREWERY
Flying Dog Brewery cans are really small canvases for famed British artist Ralph Steadman. His unique style is familiar to Hunter S. Thompson fans, since Steadman created the cover art for many of Thompson’s most popular gonzo works, including, famously, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Thompson lived near one of the Flying Dog’s founders in Colorado.) But even on a 12-ounce can, Steadman’s limitless creativity and the kinetic energy of his creations comes through and is a perfect fit for the brewery’s range of interesting beers.
FORT POINT BEER COMPANY
No one would blame you for thinking that Fort Point Beer Company is Scandinavian—or, at minimum, its cans are designed there. But Fort Point is actually a fairly new Bay Area craft brewery, with beers that are (sadly) currently only available in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
SAM ADAMS NITRO
When Sam Adams introduced its first ever nitro beer last winter, the pioneering brewery decided to shelve its usual label art depicting its favorite Founding Father in favor of a completely new style of packing. The long, 15-ounce Nitro cans display a beautiful photo of a settling poured pint—an image worthy of an art gallery. While the IPA and White Ale are no longer available, you can still find the Coffee Stout in stores.
21st AMENDMENT BREWERY
You’ll want to buy 21st Amendment Brewery’s cans by the case; gorgeous illustrations tied to the cans’ designs cover the boxes. My favorite was for the seasonal release of Fireside Chat Winter Spiced Ale, which showcased a smoking President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in front of a fireplace enjoying a snifter of alcohol. Another that is still available is the Down to Earth Session IPA can that features a Planet of the Apes-like astronaut reclining on a beachside hammock.
WAR HORSE BREWING COMPANY
Every morning, according to lore, Winston Churchill enjoyed a highball of Johnnie Walker Red Label and club soda. Upstate New York’s War Horse Brewing Company pays homage to the prime minister’s prodigious appetites with its Breakfast with Churchill Oatmeal Coffee Stout. The can is emblazoned with a portrait of the statesman in a debonair top hat, raincoat, and bowtie, silhouetted against a sky filled with war planes. It’s hard not to get inspired by what the brewery calls “The Greatest Briton of All Time.” War Horse recommends enjoying it with, naturally, a “poached egg, toast, jam, coffee and milk, grapefruit, whisky, cigar.” Look out for it in the Finger Lakes and Rochester area.
OTHER HALF BREWING COMPANY
Other Half’s beer cans look like what you would expect from a brewery located in the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. Which is to say the packaging is sleek and a can of its Galaxy India Pale Ale or Green Diamonds Imperial IPA was practically designed to sit on a mid-century modern coffee table.
It’s hard not to smile when looking at a can of Rogue’s Yellow Snow IPA—which is “dedicated to common sense”—or its macabre Dead Guy Ale. In addition to beer, the irreverent company makes a whole range of products, including spirits, soda, and cider. While the names may be funny, the beer is no joke: The brewery helped create the craft beer movement.