By Don Stuart
---- — 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).
The container in this photo was apparently the one and only original Krueger can known to exists. But oddly, it hasn’t been seen since 1985. Rumor has it that some guy in Michigan returned it for a dime deposit.
I don’t know what a serious beer can collector would have paid for it, but a dime probably wouldn’t quite do it. To give you a sense of just how much a valuable collectible beer can can cost, here are some asking prices from a couple different Internet sites for collectors. And please, brace yourself, because even at these prices, these cans DO NOT HAVE ANY BEER IN THEM!
We’ll start with the “Famous Beverwyck” brand, not because it was a particularly delicious or memorable beer, but because I hope like heck that one of next year’s college football bowl games will feature a player named “Famous Beverwyck.”
Anyway, a website called Breweriana.com will practically give away a Famous Beverwyck can for only $195.
You can pay only $795 for a can of “Dorquest Quality Beer,” although if you did, maybe your loved ones, and perhaps your friends, and most definitely I, would consider you a Dorq.
A mere $2,900 will net you a can of “London Tavern Ale.” There’s nothing like an authentic ale from Britain, and London Tavern Ale was nothing like an authentic ale from Britain; it was made in Stockton, Calif.
A far better expenditure of a spare three grand would be a can of “Williams Purple Cow Lager.” From the name, you’d think this beer can’t possibly be taken seriously. Then, when you get a glimpse of this highly collectible can, you realize for certain that this beer can’t possibly be taken seriously. The can depicts a violet-hued bovine standing alongside a white pelican. One of the cow’s teats is magically squirting a stream of what I presume is lager into the grinning bird’s beak.
Quite a number of highly collectible beer cans honor fictional characters, such as Old King Cole, and Paul Bunyan, and Billy Carter. Unfortunately, for those of you who’ve been hoarding cans of Billy Beer hoping to sell them to collectors, fuggedaboudit. They’re hardly worth anything, and you may as well empty those cans in the can.
Speaking of which, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is presently working like heck to stop his own relatives from repeating the Billy Beer debacle. He’s trying to thwart their plans to produce a new sherry wine, which they’d package in cans labeled “Vil Sack.”