The critics said canned beer would never catch on. But in 2015, 80 years later, more than 64% of beer drunk at home is sold in can and we have supermarket aisles commonly filled with canned ales, lagers, ciders and other alcoholic beverages.
In 1935, Felinfoel Brewery in Wales became the first European beverage brand to put their drink into a can then made of tin-plate. Three months later, in March 1936, they made that canned drink commercially available.
The story leading up to the canning is an interesting one – two Welsh breweries competed for the accolade, and at the time, both claimed in a local paper to have won the race.
Beer was already being canned in America by Canco but reportedly, the process there wasn’t as they’d like it to be; beer had to be pasteurised in order to suit the tin-plated container. Over in the UK, the Felinfoel and Buckley’s Breweries were keen to solve this problem; this led Felinfoel to explore alternative coating for the can.
Buckley’s Brewery was first reported by a Welsh newspaper as investigating canned beer in October 1935 but on December 1935, the “Llanelli and County Guardian” announced:
‘Canned Beer Arrives’
‘Epoch-Making Process at Felinfoel Brewery’
‘New Hope for Tinplate Industry’
Naturally, Buckley’s was unhappy to lose to Felinfoel and so, in the same issue of the paper, took out an advert claiming they had achieved canning on the same day but that, until the “directors are satisfied that canned beer has the same estimable qualities as their bottled product, the process will be in the nature of an experiment”
The first UK beer can was shaped like a bottle; the body was constructed from three pieces of metal. It was then sealed with a metal crown cap. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the can resembled its modern format that we know today.
The can offered, and still offers, great benefits to drinks manufacturers, brands and consumers. Despite being heavier than the modern can, the original cans were light compared to the thick glass bottles commonly used for drinks at this time. They could be easily and more economically transported and their contents had a longer shelf-life.
Laws and attitudes towards alcohol began to relax in the 1960s, and it was at this time that alcoholic beverages became more common on supermarket shelves. Cans were immediately a popular pack to stock – they were light-weight and required minimal shelf space; they were easily stacked and unlikely to break.
In the 1970s can sales in the UK rose sharply following the introduction of the easy-open ends. This added a new level of convenience for the consumer. Multipacks were increasingly in vogue, especially for beer. Single unit purchases also saw an increase at this time. This upward trend continued as the can continued to gain fans throughout the 80s and 90s.
Eighty years have passed since that first canned drink was poured, yet the popularity of canned drinks has continued to grow. With the introduction of new suppliers and technologies into the UK, craft drink manufacturers (beers, ciders and soft drinks) have the opportunity to adopt the pack and so continue the can’s legacy. It’s an exciting time in canning, we look forward to seeing what the next 80 years will bring.