What kind of book might you find on the coffee table of dedicated beer enthusiast? How about a photographic compendium of vintage beer cans (480, to be exact) from the 1930s up to the 2000s?
The book, Beer: A Genuine Collection of Cans, catalogues the collection of a man by the name of Josh Russo — and yes, it's as cool as it sounds. Authored and photographed by Dan Becker (Josh's stepson) and his friend Lance Wilson, it's a stunningly visual look at the evolution of beer canning and design with interesting historical facts sprinkled throughout. Says Lance of his reaction to seeing the collection in person, "I remember walking down into Dan's parents' basement one day to work on a project for school and being blown away by what I saw — what initially looked like floor-to-ceiling wallpaper was actually thousands of tightly packed shelves."
We recently spoke with the authors to learn a little more about the collection, from the obscure ("Birthday Beer") to the truly unique (blood-red "Halloween Festival Beer").
Of all the cans, which has your favorite logo or mascot?
Dan: One of my favorites has to be Bruck's — the logotype and color palette scream Americana and for some reason that really resonates with me.
Lance: Esslinger's Little Man Ale, with it's playful and quirky waiter. He was full of personality and charm.
Which can do you consider to be the most obscure?
Dan: "Happy Birthday Beer" seems pretty obscure — I bet anyone would love to receive that as a present. If not, the back of the can has a variety of alternatives including a 5-karat diamond, a sailboat, or a new car. Someone had fun making that can.
Lance: Olde Frothingslosh has to rank among the most obscure cans in the book. The entire brand was based on a joke by a Pittsburgh radio show, and judging by the cans' labels, its creators didn't take themselves too seriously.
Did any surprise you in terms of design or rarity?
Dan: I was surprised to learn that some cans were designed specifically for soldiers to avoid reflecting light at night during World War II.
Lance: The stark minimalism of many of the generic cans surprised me, probably since today so many generic brands try so hard to look premium.
Are there any cans whose logos or design you wish the brand had kept?
Dan: I wish I could see "Rock & Roll Beer" in stores today.
Lance: I really love the old Michelob can with its strikingly simple and iconic red ribbon. While it hasn't totally gone away, the ribbon definitely plays a more subdued role in their current packaging.
Of the older cans, are there any that no longer exist that you would have liked to try?
Dan: I would have loved to try the "Anoka Halloween Festival Beer" that was colored blood red, although I imagine it might not taste that great.
Lance: Champagne Velvet — only to say I got to taste "the beer with the million dollar flavor."
And finally, when you're drinking, what's your beer of choice?
Dan: I'm not sure... maybe Anchor Stream?
Lance: Nothing in particular, but you can't go wrong with a Sierra Nevada.