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The Isle of Wight branch of the Campaign for Real Ale

The History of Beer in Cans

by David Dines

Beer in Can

Back in September 2010 there was an exchange of letters in the County Press. The subject of these letters was the Mew Langton's Mews Ale beer cans.

Although the letters repeated several myths about the can, they were close to the truth with the dates.

The story of the can, sometimes referred to as a "cone top" which is apt as it resembles a Brasso polish can, is quite interesting.

In an article in the American magazine 'Beer Cans Monthly' Richard Dolphin provides many of the pieces of the jigsaw. He reports that in 1935 beer canning began in Britain. Many brewers had been visited by representatives of Metal Box, a British company. This can be checked as all the Mews cans have 'patents pending, the metal box company' printed on their side. The dating can of course be verified by contacting the patent office.

The beer can was first developed in the USA by companies such as the Continental Can Co, and the American Can Co, and Metal Box was trying to develop a market in Britain and had protected itself by taking out a patent.Beer in Cans On a questions and answers page in the Daily Mail dated 17/2/2001, Philip Lewis of the Felinfoel Brewery, Llanelli outlined what is generally agreed the first British beer can. The article states "In 1931 Can Co anticipating the end of prohibition in the US and with the depression affecting its conventional markets tried again (a 1909 trial failed). Can Co persuaded the small Gottfried Krueger Brewery of Newark, New Jersey, to try the process. A test run of 2,000 cans was produced in 1933 and these sampled by regular Krueger drinkers. The results were positive : 91% liked the canned drink. Then in January 1935 two brands, Krueger's Finest Beer and Cream Ale went on Beer in Cans sale in Richmond, Virginia".

Back in the UK other brewers were keenly watching progress and taking part. The Llanelli and County Guardian recorded the historic moment on 3/12/1935 under the headline 'Canned Beer Arrives', Epoch-Making Process at Felinfoel Brewery' and 'New Hope for Tinplate Industry'.

Back on the Isle of Wight, Mew's Ale was also out and by 1937 production was in full flow. The screw top described in the County Press is erroneous as the can has a crown cap. Interestingly the crown cap has exactly the same Pale Ale design as the paper neck strap label used for the glass screw topped bottles. I would hazard a guess that the Mews' Ale was Mews' Pale Ale, though it may have been breweryBeer in Cans conditioned, filtered and/or pasteurised. Secondary fermentation wouldn't though I guess have been too much of a problem as the cans are a heavyish gauge steel and very robust! Further research can be initially undertaken by Googling "cone topped beer cans", and the wealth of information there. Lots of American cone topped cans can be viewed on EBay, though British cone tops are much rarer and highly sought after. This rarity was due to the production of British cone tops ceasing due to the outbreak of World War 2.