A few weeks ago, I laid down the chronology for American craft beer in cans. It turns out I’m missing a major link. Hat tip to Lee Reiherzer, who informs me that the very first American craft beer sold in a can was very likely Chief Oshkosh Red Lager, brewed under contract at Stevens Point Brewery by Mid-Coast Brewing.
Mid-Coast was the brainchild of Jeff Fulbright, a University of Wisconsin grad who studied at Siebel and who went to a Great American Beer Festival in the late 1980s, where he ran into Jim Koch, who had recently started the Boston Beer Co. Koch told the excited, young beer novice that he did not need a physical brewery to realize his dream of bringing back an all-malt version of Chief Oshkosh beer (the Oshkosh Brewing Company had gone the way of many regionals and closed in 1971). In 1990, Fulbright connected with Stevens Point brewmaster John Zappa, and, the following June, Chief Osh Kosh Red Lager hit Wisconsin shelves. Per Reiherzer:
Initially the beer was sold only in cans. Mid-Coast Brewing was strapped for cash and cans were the least expensive packaging option, but Fulbright saw it as an opportunity. Early ads for the beer make a point of the fact that it was the only American all-malt beer to be packaged this way and asserted that cans offered better protection for the beer and were more environmentally friendly. Fulbright’s ad copy from the period was prescient.
Indeed. Though Mid-Coast Brewing did not survive the 1990s, Fulbright’s brand had hit on something. Dale Katechis‘ Oskar Blues was the first craft brewery to can in house in 2002, and nowadays canning American craft beers is de rigueur (Koch’s Boston Beer famously announced in February it would start canning Samuel Adams Boston Lager). If anyone knows of any American craft beers in cans that predate Chief Oshkosh in 1991, do let me know.