I hope this doesn’t aggravate your New Year’s hangover, but I must remind you to please find a remedy for it before Jan. 24. That is, of course, the next important Holy Day of Ale-bligation, when we honor the birth of canned beer, preferably by hoisting a cold one and hollering “Slainte!” (an Irish word so often mispronounced that, technically, you cannot mispronounce it, no matter how many cold ones you’ve hoisted.)
It was Jan. 24, 1935, when the first beer ever packaged in a can went on sale, in Richmond, Va. The brews were produced by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, N. J. (Historical note: “Gottfried” was not Krueger’s actual first name; it merely described what happened to him when he enjoyed a bit too much of his product.)
There are many fascinating reasons why Krueger was the first one in the can, but explaining them would require me to expend valuable time and energy looking stuff up, seriously reducing the time I have available to practice mispronouncing “Slainte!”
I can tell you that the Krueger folks were apparently kind of nervous about packaging their product in a can. To see whether it would work, 2,000 test cans were given to loyal Krueger drinkers. Nine out of ten said they liked it. Of course, there were only ten of them to begin with. As one of them later said, “the best-tasting beer is the one I (burp) get 200 free cans of.”
For beer can collectors, that first Krueger can is pretty much the Holy Grail of Ale. The Brewery Collectibles Club of America shows a picture of it on its Web site. The can depicts a smiling bellhop posed in the shape of a capital letter “K.” The upper angled line of the “K” is the bellhop’s arm, carrying a tray which holds a beer, which is, quite naturally, a Schlitz (bellhops in those days couldn’t afford to buy Krueger).