Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Oshkosh and the Dilemma of Canned Beer
For smaller, regional brewers such as those in Oshkosh, canned beer was something of a menace. It added additional expense to their operation and made it increasingly easier for larger breweries to flood their market with beer. Canned beer maintained its freshness longer and was cheaper to distribute than bottled beer, virtually eliminating the geographical advantages the small breweries relied upon for their survival.
By the 1950s canned beer was omnipresent. The brewers of Oshkosh had to either adapt fully or go under. In 1955 the Oshkosh Brewing Company took the plunge by purchasing a new canning line and converting to the more familiar flat-top can. A year later, The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh, which never made the jump to cans, went out of business. The Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh would be a late adopter to canning, holding out until 1963 before introducing its beer in cans. But for the brewers of Oshkosh, canned beer was a losing proposition. In the end, it represented one more competitive advantage that the large beer makers used to drive under small, local breweries like those here.
There is a bright spot to the story of canned beer in Oshkosh, though. In June of 1991, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager by the Mid-Coast Brewing Company of Oshkosh became the first American craft beer packaged in cans. The beer was years ahead of a trend that is only now coming to prominence. There are now more than 100 American craft brewers canning their beer, but when Jeff Fulbright, President of Mid-Coast brewing, started the ball rolling 20 years ago, craft beer in a can was a hard sell. “Back then, the idea that great beer doesn't come in a can hurt me,” Fulbright says.
There were, however, others who appreciated Fulbright’s effort. In 1992 The Beer Can Collectors of America chose the handsome Chief Oshkosh Red Lager can as their can of the year. The beer may be gone, but the can still looks great today.