24 years ago this week the first canned craft beer hit the market.
Canned beer was introduced in 1935 by Kruger’s, and soon followed by Pabst, Budweiser, and other mass-market brewing companies. These companies typically canned American lagers, which was the overwhelming majority until 1991.Due to its introduction during hard economic times, canned beer was considered low-brow. It was the least expensive packaging option, and advertised offering better protection and being environmentally friendly compared to bottles. By the early nineties, cans had a down-scale image. Craft beer drinkers neither liked nor were excited about their beloved beers being stored in aluminum. This became an issue when Jeff Fulbright, founder of Mid-Coast Brewing Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, sought out a cheap way to package his product Chief Oshkosh..
“The idea that great beer doesn’t come in a can hurt me,” said Fulbright.
Originally, Chief Oshkosh was a non-alcoholic “near beer” and was sold in 1928 during the Prohibition before becoming a “true beer” in 1933. After a 44-year production run, the Oshkosh Brewing Company closed after a new recipe hurt the beer’s reputation. 18 years later, Fulbright revived the beer using a new recipe.
The updated version of Chief Oshkosh beer was a toned down version of an Oktoberfest that could be enjoyed throughout the year. Using an all-malt recipe, Fulbright created America’s first red lager.
On June 19th, 1991 Chief Oshkosh Red Lager hit the market with a public tasting of about 45 people. The beer gained positive recognition and was favorable among beer writers. Within a year, more than a dozen similar red lagers were being sold in the U.S.
As competition grew, Chief Oshkosh remained in production for only four years — the last batch brewed was in December 1994.
Today, canned craft beer is all the rage — no longer considered inferior; and in 2002, Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale became the first canned modern craft beer.