This is a day that celebrates the introduction of the can as a vehicle for drinking beer. We celebrate this day on January 24th because that is the day back in 1935 that Krueger’s Finest Beer first introduced the can to the masses (even though they had started testing it over a year earlier). Their testing found that most people found the taste of beer in a can was closer to the taste of actual draft beer than beer in a bottle. The cans were different then. They were made of steel and had to be opened with a can opener (like the old Hi-C cans), but they were a success for Krueger’s and soon others followed. There is a Rhode Island tie-in to Krueger’s too. It seems that after a successful run, Krueger’s was eventually purchased by the folks at Ballentine Ale and then eventually the Falstaff Brewing Company. Falstaff also owned our own Narragansett Brewery and even brewed the Krueger’s brand at the Cranston brewery for a short time. Falstaff also led to the demise of Rhode Island’s favorite brewery and moved the brewing of ‘Gansett to Indiana. Since 2005, new owners have moved Narragansett back home and they have since re-energized the brand. Narragansett also has a famous beer can which is noted for its appearance in the classic film Jaws in which Quint crushes the can in his bare hand while out on the Orca (no easy feat in the days of non-aluminum cans).
In March 1963, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company changed the beer can game by introducing its flagship Iron City Beer in self-opening cans which came with a tab on the top with a little ring that you grabbed and pulled leaving an opening for you to guzzle. These are called “Pop Tops” and revolutionized the beer can industry. However, it wasn’t without its flaws. Anyone who remembers these, and I can, remembers how the ring would come off leaving you with an unopened can. Plus, back in the seventies, the streets were littered with pull tops that were cast away. It was an issue. In the mid-seventies, they began to be replaced by the stay tab where the tab would remain on the can and that is what we still use today.
My info here was sourced by an article by the Brewery Collectibles Club of America. The history of beer seems pretty well documented, at least modern beer, and I appreciate that.
Personally, I prefer beer in a bottle. It just feels better to me. More adult and less dorm-roomy. That reflects an old prejudice against the can when beer in a bottle was meant for savoring while the can was more for the bourgeois, but things have changed. More recently, the can has been making a comeback. The actual cans are better nowadays and engineered to enhance your beer drinking optimization. There’s also been a dramatic increase in the cost of bottles, so brewers have been embracing the cheaper cost of a can while working hard to keep up the drinking quality. There’s no shame to beer from a can these days.
The first part of my celebration today was to go get a can of beer so I headed to our local package store and picked up a six pack. I naturally wanted to get Miller High Life, but they only had that in a 12 pack which was more than I wanted, so I decided because it was a holiday, maybe I’ll go for something else. I decided on a beer called Flying Jenny, which is an extra pale ale from Grey Sail Brewing which is based in Westerly, RI. A local beer. I’m not exactly sure why I picked it outside of it having nice, bright packaging and I thought the name was funny. I picked it up and put it in the fridge when I got home. When happy hour rolled around, I cracked open a can and enjoyed.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of cracking open a can of beer. It creates a Pavlovian response because I lick my lips just thinking of that sound. Even when someone opens a can of soda I think I hear a beer calling me. That’s something I appreciate. I also appreciate that they have widened the opening in the can so it makes it more drinkable. A subtle improvement, but one that makes a difference. The beer was good and refreshing. I think I had been craving a nice cold beer, so it hit me right. A nice break.
The second part of my celebration was to make Beer Can Chicken. I’ve been hearing about this for a few years and was naturally curious. I thought what better way to appreciate a beer can than to show its diversity. I found a recipe online from a blog called How Sweet It Is which said it made the juiciest beer can chicken. Good enough for me. I had everything on hand, except the chicken and some lime, so I picked some up and got ready to make it. You start by putting together some spices including brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and mixing it with some softened butter. Then you get up under the skin of the chicken and massage it into the bird. If you have issues with touching raw meat, this is not a job for you. After that, you put a half filled can of beer (a Flying Jenny in this case), and you ram it up the underside of the chicken. Actually, that sounds kind of violent. Truth be told, if you take your time and if you still have butter on your hand, it eases right in there (that can be life advice too). Then you spread some olive oil on the outside of the bird and rub in the rest of the spices so you can create a nice crisp skin. You also slide some fresh limes into the cavity of the bird and underneath the skin to give it a citrusy tang. When it’s ready, it goes into a 425 degree oven for an hour and fifteen minutes.
It looks funny, like a puppet, when you put it in the oven. It’s pretty much standing up in there which is an odd thing to see. It’s also a little off-balance too. A five pound bird trying to stay balanced by a 12 ounce can doesn’t work in the world of physics and the bird was teetering. To help, I propped the legs in a manner to help the balance, so it really looked like the bird was walking. It’s just an odd sight. I let it cook. Lola was working in the kitchen and I told her if she heard a noise from the oven, to let me know. It would either be the bird falling over or the bird trying to escape.
I know what you are thinking. You burned it. And yes, the skin definitely burnt in places. This picture was taken right after I pulled it from the oven and when I let it rest for a bit, it definitely didn’t look quite so charred. I had read another recipe that said if you cook it in the oven (most people cook beer can chicken on their grill), you should tent the bird in aluminum foil after a certain amount of time in the oven. The recipe I used didn’t say that, but it would have been good advice. But, as burned as it looked, I could tell the chicken itself was ok. Only the skin was burnt and that makes sense because it was lathered in oil and sugars.
I pulled the can out which was a little harder than I thought because it was really hot, but I managed and I put the bird on a cutting board. I was surprised that there was still beer left in the can. I thought it would evaporate or soak into the chicken, but there was definitely some in there. It tasted pretty good too. I could taste the drippings which melded with that warm, hoppy taste. (Just kidding – I did not drink it). After the chicken rested for about 15 minutes, I cut in. The skin peeled right off and was actually pretty tasty. But the chicken? The chicken was spot on. Moist and juicy, full of flavor from the spices. A definite success. Even Lola was a fan and in fact, she sampled some of the skin while I was carving and enjoyed that as well. A good recipe, I’ll just tent it next time so it doesn’t char.
I believe it was Navin R. Johnson in the movie The Jerk who said, “What’s the matter with these cans?” Well Navin, nothing really. They get the job done and have been making the drinking of beer easier for 82 years. Beer cans are part of our culture and deserve our appreciation. I’ve spent a lot of times with beer cans. I know what they fell like in my hand. I know what they sound like when they open. I know how full they are by giving them a little shake. I know how to stack them efficiently in our fridge. I know how to shotgun one (although it’s been a while). They are part of a good life. So thank you beer cans for all you have given us and continue to give us. We raise our can to your continued legacy of refreshment and fun.
Next Up: National Irish Coffee Day