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Posted at 2:40 PM ET, 12/17/2010

Brickskeller memories: Beer can collecting

By Tim Carman
beer can collector_opt.jpg This Falls Church collector must have spent half his life at the Brick. (Gerald Martineau for The Washington Post)

This is the third installment in our retrospective look at the Brickskeller, which closes tomorrow and then reopens after Christmas under new ownership. You can also read part one and two of our series.

There was a time at the Brickskeller when underage drinkers decided what beers everyone at the table would order. These pint-sized hop heads were not selecting brews based on flavor or seasonality or some new groundbreaking brewery collaboration. No, they were picking beers based on one factor only:

Did they have the can in their collection?

Consider this section (in a PDF file) from Robert L. Asher's story, "Family Out," from the July 7, 1977, edition of The Post:

Every inch of this place that isn't showing the fine old brick walls is lined with exotic beer containers or collector lore.
That's what those many other pages in the menu are all about: There are hundreds of different beers in cold stock here. And the restaurant has the canniest cleanup system: The customers can take home all their empties in a bag.
So bug-eyed was our son that it took a mini-era before he was able to recommend two brands with which his parents might slake their thirsts while...he and his 8-year-old sister worked on soft drinks.
From the global directory of malt, I was tapped to try Royal Dutch from Holland and my wife was assigned a Stoney's from Pennsylvania.
Most of the domestic beers are in the $1.15 to $1.25 range, while imports are generally $1.60 to $2. There's also an endangered species list of beers that they'll price on request. All the beers arrive at the table upside down, by the way, because they're opened on the bottoms to maximize their beauty and value.
So what you end up seeing is lots of children and adults sitting around piles of upside-down beer cans. It looks like the "Before" part of a Keep-America-Beautiful ad.

Beer cans, of course, are making a comeback in the craft beer market, but aluminum continues to be the container of choice for those rainwater-esque light beers, which means that there are still millions of cans being tossed back annually, based mostly on commercials that are far more compelling than the suds. Most of these modern cans, of course, never make it to a 10-year-old's bedroom anymore. Check out this unintentionally hilarious line from the Brewery Collectibles Club of America, whose popularity peaked in the late 1970s:

Over the ensuing years, the hobby has matured. Less serious collectors have dropped out, leaving the core membership of the BCCA to be collectors with stronger passion, larger collections and greater interest in the survival and growth of the club.

Translation: Collectors who have been known to hack off a family member's finger for touching their beer cans.

By Tim Carman  | December 17, 2010; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags:  The Brickskeller, Tim Carman, beer  
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