Why Churchkey Can Co. Makes Me Mad

What is old is new again.  Truer words were never spoken where Churchkey Can Co. brewing is concerned.  The other night I went to Brewforia and my buddy Rick had picked these up on a recent trip through Washington.  The concept is simple and as old as metal packaging itself.  Put a liquid in a totally sealed flat top can, and pop the top with a churchkey (can opener for those that aren’t familiar with the vernacular).

This beer was brewed collaboratively with Two Beers brewing and Churchkey Can Company in Seattle Washington.  The particular beer I had was their Pilsner style lager.

There are five reasons I don’t like this concept.

1) Its gimmicky.  There I said it, this is just an attempt to be different for difference sake.  What is wrong with a regular can?  It is certainly more convenient than having to find an opener every time you want to crack open a brew.  Have you ever tried to find a can opener?  I don’t know about you, but in my house where we have a constant parade of kids and their friends and four people who regularly cook, I’m lucky if I can find one of my 5 bottle openers I keep around.  Some say it is great for camping…I say, Good Luck!  I’d be beating this can with a rock in two days, tops!  Oh, but it comes with its own can opener, problem solved, right?  My house has a way of swallowing up certain items.  Some day I will find a huge stash of measuring tapes, can openers, pens, and socks…all hiding and mocking me.  But maybe you aren’t like me, and can keep track of things.  Hope you don’t like this beer then, or you will have can openers coming out your ears.

2) You can kind of tell from the photo, but the top of the can is all wet.  So it has to be completely clean before you pop the top, because the very first thing it does is overflow.  This beer had been sitting on the counter for a good 5 minutes before I opened it, and it still overflowed.  I couldn’t pop that second hole quick enough.  And good luck keeping the top clean when you are camping!  Of course dirt and a sore back is all part of the “experience” so nevermind, you enjoy your dirty beer.

3) It seems forced…you know?  I’ve never seen a beer company named after the vessel the beer comes in.  As far as I know there is no Bottle Brewery, or Growler Brewing, or Sixtel Beer Works.  Of course there is Mason Jar Distillery, but I call Bullshit on that too.  It seems unnecessarily limiting and short sighted.  But they’re locked in.  First time they brew a beer in anything other than a flat topped can I’m crying foul!

4) Can technology has come a long way…Embrace it.  Part of the really cool thing about the Craft Beer revolution is that it is spawning some really great innovations, both in the liquid inside the vessel and the vessels themselves.  Cans now have vents built in for smoother pouring, the linings are getting better so contamination is no longer a problem, hell they are even taking growler technology to a new level both in the filling of them and in dispensing the liquid inside them.  This has all been done to improve the quality of the product inside the vessel.  This does none of that.  Is a matter of fact I could easily argue that this is a giant leap backwards in making sure the beer we all enjoy is crisp, fresh, and CLEAN!  (See comments 1 and 2)

5) Finally, and most importantly this is damn good beer!  I really, really liked this beer.  It was a great blend of pilsner crispness and biscuity body with a perfect compliment of lager yeast and aging.  This beer rocks, but they put it in this really dumb can.  This is super annoying to me for all the reasons I stated above.  It would be one thing if the beer sucked, then who cares, put it in a shoe for all I care, but this beer is good and deserves an appropriate package.

I know there is a certain cool factor here, and the star from Entourage Adrian Grenier is an investor in this concept and brewery, giving it some mass appeal.  But once all the hoopla dies, what you are left with is a really well made beer in a maddening can.  I’m afraid that what they are celebrating at this brewery will ultimately be their demise, and that makes me sad because I really like this beer.

So what do you think? Am I being too quick to not embrace this retro concept? Or do you think like I do that this brewery has planted the seeds to their own destruction?  Let us know in the comments.


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66 Comments on “Why Churchkey Can Co. Makes Me Mad”

  1. May 8, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    They can’t even keg this beer. I’d like to see someone churchkey a keg. ;^) Agreed, Don. Kinda silly. Once the novelty wears off, what do you have? Except a barrier to entry.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

      Oh, Chad, you have given me a very sexist mindset with which to make my retort to your comment! Let me just put it this way… This is like the Chastity Belt of packaging. 😉

  2. May 8, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    You’re right it’s gimmicky. It takes me back to my childhood; the days before pop-tops and twist-offs, the whole ‘good old days’ nostalgia shtick. I like ‘these days.’ The good old days weren’t that good. Still, if the beer rocks, I’m finding a churchkey or opening it with a ripsaw or my Buck knife. If a bottle cap can be opened with a sheet of paper, the lack of a churchkey isn’t going to stop the inventive beer drinker.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      You have a point there Norm. Beer folk are a persistent and inventive bunch. Hell, it could be a contest to find the most innovative way to open one of these cans without a churchkey!

  3. Incogneato
    May 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    You didn’t mention the “other” gimmick… the company is owed by a celebrity. Adrian Grenier from Entourage.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      I thought I did mention that towards the bottom of the post. I no longer call bullshit on that since some celebs have been making some pretty good stuff. Like Cabo Wabo Tequila that is owned by Sammy Hagar, and Dan Akroyd also owns a tequila company that puts their stuff in skull shaped bottles. By all accounts the Jonas Brother’s brew will be pretty tasty too. So I guess I think it shows more that beer and spirits are getting more mainstream, and I don’t think that is gimmicky. But you are correct Adrian Grenier is part owner.

    • May 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      A hipster’s hipster.

  4. May 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Interesting. I assumed the beer would suck. I mean who buys/sells beer based on the packaging?

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      My point exactly Zac…or one of my points anyway. The packaging is important, but the beer inside should be the focus. Sadly here they have focused on the worst part of this beer, the frustrating can it comes in!

    • May 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Most everyone else, that’s who buys/sells beer based on the packaging. Remember the Miller Lite Vortex Bottle? http://www.examiner.com/article/millercoors-introduces-new-marketing-gimmick-the-vortex-bottle

      • May 10, 2012 at 10:33 am #

        Yeah, how has that improved Miller sales?

    • techcommdood
      May 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm #


      • Don
        May 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

        Nice! The only thing more maddening than a flat top beer can would be one stuffed inside a dead squirrel!

        • May 10, 2012 at 10:34 am #

          Might I remind you that the beer in question wasn’t more about the ridiculous ABV inside and not really about the packaging. The packaging was a comment on the absurdity of producing a “beer” so high in alcohol and price. It’s a joke. Move on.

        • Don
          May 10, 2012 at 10:41 am #


  5. Fred
    May 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm #


    I understand your frustration with the gimmick, but if the product is good enough, I for one with bitch and drink it. Although I will probably pour it into a glass first. I still have problems not making a mess dirinking out of a can. You would think I would have learned after 50+ years of drinking from cans (back when church keys were a must) but I guess I’m just not trainable.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      I’ll drink it too, because it was good, but if I have a choice between this beer and Joe’s Pilsner from Avery (also in a can that doesn’t need a churchkey) I’ll drink Joe’s every time.

  6. May 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    This is a fun idea for ONE BEER DRINKING OCCASION. Hey everybody, I’m like Don Draper, out mowing the lawn and wrenching open a beer. It’s 1963! Wheee!! This would be followed by the realization that most houses didn’t have air conditioning in 1963, there was no Internet, and the Founder of Apple was still learning how to tie his shoes. Let’s face it, 1963 is for the birds!!

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      As far as I can tell the only good thing that happened in 1963 was my conception. 😉

      • May 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

        That was only good for Dad.

        • Don
          May 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

          and me, and all my kids. It’s probably a toss up where my wife is concerned… 😦

  7. Andy
    May 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    If the beer is good, I’ll enjoy it. I do wonder f there is a back story behind those cans though. Are these people using an ultra-modern canning machine retrofitted to work with stupid retro lids, or are they packing on a vintage machine that can’t really accommodate modern cans and lids? I could see the latter as being a compromise that an upstart company might decide to make- to go with cans on an older, affordable machine rather than be stuck with bottles and the breakage and increased shipping costs that are associated with glass packaging. I can also see a marketing advantage to flooding the US with free “churchkeys” bearing their advertising.. In short, I don’t think I can make a true “I like it” or “I don’t like it” without knowing a little bit more…

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      Like I said Andy, I like the beer, a lot. For me the packaging is stupid, and I’m afraid that most people will feel the same.

  8. techcommdood
    May 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I applaud it. Why? Because it IS a gimmick. But it’s a gimmick that brings back a bit of history and nostalgia. I would take this elegant throwback (and its apparently very tasty beer inside) over the vortex bottleneck, the vented widemouth, the write-on beer label, the “microkeg”, and of course the new perforated can top from MillerCoors.

    Breweries have gimmicks. Stone, Dogfish Head, and Fat Tire (to name a very small few) all use various gimmicks designed to promote their company and their beer, appealing to a specific mindset of the overall beer-drinking population. So why not Churchkey? Instead of a “You’re not worthy” campaign, a “off-centered” lineup, or a “it’s not a gimmick” biking gimmick, they use nostalgia. Nothing wrong with any of these approaches, if you ask me.

    Yes, they could have used a basic modern can. Stone could also offer a basic modern growler instead of this thing: http://stonecompanystore.com/store/product/616/Growler-2-L/ But they made it, and people are eating it up. Good for Stone!

    On keeping a churchkey handy in your home (I somehow have many), if it’s too difficult to keep one in one spot, then don’t buy the beer. If drying the can top or cleaning it off from dirt is too difficult (all cans face the same demons here) then don’t buy the beer. If it seems too forced, then prove you’re stronger and don’t buy it. We all have choices, and every beer has its gimmick. Drink what’s good, embrace or at least objectively acknowledge what’s different, make note and move on.

    FWIW, I’d much rather go with a churchkey than a dead squirrel, and yet BrewDog somehow made that monstrosity a hit, even at its absolutely insane price point.

    • techcommdood
      May 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

      Of note, I have no personally tried Churchkey beer, and it is not remotely available way over here in NY. However, I do love accepting gifts. 😉 LOL!

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Already noted in my previous reply to the Brew Dog comment…Genius by the way. Your points are well taken, but so too should mine be. If this beer sucked, or if it had a ridiculous price point, I wouldn’t care. No harm, no foul. But it is good beer and I can afford it (Although I can not yet buy it because they don’t distribute to Idaho) but the packaging is frustrating. And I don’t want to miss out on a good beer because the packaging sucks. So I am furstrated. I think my feelings are valid. So I wrote them down. Its what us bloggers do. 😉

      • Bill
        May 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

        I now await beer packaged in child-safe pill bottles. 😉

    • May 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

      Ditto for me!

      It may be because I’m old but all five of my church keys have a bottle opener on one end and a can piercer on the other. (I didn’t even know they came any other way.) As for gettin’ into it–where there’s a will there’s a way. I’ve been known to use a p38 or the awl on my pocket knife when a reg’lar church key wasn’t to hand (a screwdriver will work too.). And I got real good at catchin’ that first sploosh! As for dirt on the can–that’s why I always carry a bandanna.

      • Don
        May 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

        Well Wayne, you must have been a Boy Scout! As for Jim and Myself, Dad took me to three Indian Guides meetings then couldn’t take it any more.

        • May 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

          Guilty as charged. I was a Scout Master for as long as my son was interested in scouting and continued as a counselor for years afterward.

      • May 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

        A p38 was the Wife and I’s only can opener for years when we first got married, we finally broke down and bought a ‘real’ can opener about ten years ago.

        • May 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

          Its only been a few years since I stopped carrying one on my key chain and the only reason I stopped is ’cause I lost the key chain. ;^)

  9. May 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Note: actor Kerr Smith is opening Venice Brewing Co. in June.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Who’s Kerr Smith? And how come he has two last names?

      • May 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

        Kerr Smith was Jack on Dawson’s Creek. He can actually brew beer and was a homebrewer before launch VBBC with his partner. We’ll see if it’s any good.

  10. John
    May 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I like it! Plus I call BS on 2. This is a problem with all cans not just these. What I really like is the visual of you with a can of this and no opener to be found… MWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      John, John…Number 2 is real. I can open pop top cans all day and not have them overflow. This can reminded me of opening a really bubbly sour. It came out fast and furious.

      • John
        May 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

        Depends on the beer I say. “Honey where’s the damn Churchkey!”

  11. May 8, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    I’ve seen this out there also and also hesitated to buy it because of the gimmick factor, but after your review, I might try it. The only reason to keep me from buying it is their inclusion of a church key. See, I have the opposite problem from you Don, I actually have too many church keys! Everyone I knew growing up had a church key, not only to open cans and bottles, but to also open oil cans before they came in twist-off top plastic containers. It only took once trying to open the old oil cans by stabbing it with a screwdriver before you made sure you had spare church keys.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      I never learned that lesson Will, and have turned many a tee shirt into an oil rag because of the splashback from the screw driver. I say find a place that sells singles and give it a try. It is different than Joes Pilsner, but I like it almost as well. Nice to have a variety, but frustrating finding a can opener in my house!

    • Bill
      May 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      I have an old churchkey with a wooden handle and magnet. I have no idea where I got it, but it stays propped on my fridge. I use it when cooking a lot, especially when I need to strain can contents. I have several others around, too. They’re highly collectible as well. I ran across a store on Cape Cod last summer that had a huge collection of them, plus a giant bin of “scratch and dent” ones from old breweries, soda companies, oil companies, and more.

      • Don
        May 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

        Cool. I had a magnetized one too that I too kept on the fridge. I found it in the back yard. My son was using it to unclog sprinkler heads. I don’t know where the hell it is now…

        • May 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

          I applaud your son’s resourcefulness. What else would such an odd shaped device be used for?

        • Bill
          May 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

          Probably with the broken sprinkler heads. 😉

      • May 8, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

        I guess I’d better keep an an eye on some of mine if they’re collectible. The one I’ve had the longest is a Coors church key from the sixties that my grandfather gave me when Coors started packaging in those ‘push-button’ cans.

        • May 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

          Geez, those push button cans blew. Coors just didn’t want to pay for the use of the pull tab (no proof of this, just supposition).

  12. ScottG
    May 8, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    If I were to see this in a store and not know the beer was tasty, I’m confident my reaction would be “What a pain in the ass way to open a beer. Oh look, bottles and normal cans.” I don’t have some hipster/boomer nostalgia for a time in America I didn’t experience. I’m not saying every improvement is automatically better, but it seems that someone did actually come up with a better way to open a can. If they can point to some scientific study proving that pouring from a church key-opened can makes the beer better or cures cancer or something, then I’d listen. But I don’t think that’s coming around any time soon.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more, and I was alive during those church key days of old, and I can’t tell you what a PIA it was to remember to swipe a can opener from my old man when I was stealing his beer!

      • May 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

        I’ll bet you can remember the early days of pull tabs as well. I can tell you that the air around here turned blue more than once when a tab would break off. Fortunately for me, I had a church key.

  13. Jeff
    May 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Hipsters will be all over this like a dog on a cat turd.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

      Good point. Perhaps they’re looking to cut into the Pabst market.

  14. Diss Content
    May 8, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    This is a great example of ‘the good ‘ol days’ for those younger than 40. Sure overall life expectancy was less because we drank our beer from cans of steel, which were opened by forcing a virus laced lid tab into a growth medium. Once the fluid soaked steel begins to oxidize in the beer it became a battle between tetanus and hepatitis over which would occupy your IG tract first.

    Several breweries have had product named after their containers. Bass Ale was so named because it was initially packaged in fish during the fourteenth century. True story.

    • Don
      May 8, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      Yes, but were they really Bass?

    • May 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Why would beer in a hermetically sealed steel can develop tetanus or hepatitis? Also, I don’t recall ever getting sick from drinking beer out of an old-fashioned steel can, but then again, I usually poured it into a glass.

      • Diss Content
        May 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

        Let’s see here massugu…. The can is made out of steel and when the church key slices the top of the can it exposes raw steel to the beer. The raw steel oxidizes and creates rust which has been associated with tetanus.

        Where did ya find that church key? In the dishwasher or an autoclave? I’m betting no to both. Read how they are used to unclog sprinklers, found in tool boxes or wedged under the seat of a car before considering the mechanics of such an opener. The rim of the can is the fulcrum where the handle is a lever forcing the pointed end of the key through the top of the can and approximately half an inch into that hermetically sealed beverage. I recall those church keys being sticky and attracting all kinds of bonus adjuncts during their periods of non-use. Can anyone honestly say they actually washed one of these openers which are actually thrust into the product in such a way that it makes what Norman Bates did to Janet Leigh look like a love tap? I didn’t think so.

        Yep, gotta watch out for those bacteria like hyperbole and satire, they will get you every time.

        I should have known that Bass Ale wasn’t packed in bass fish because that would be stupid. It was haddock which was used to hold those first ales, my mistake Don.

        • Bill
          May 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

          Where’s the lid of your modern punch-top can been? You know, because you plunge part of it into your beer as well, and contact it with your lips. What about the funk and rust that can accumulate under the cap of a bottle, between the metal and the glass, which fluid comes into contact with when poured, or meets your lips as you drink from the bottle?

          And how often do you wash that can opener blade? You know, because it comes into abrasive contact with the steel every time, rubbing its funk on the clean cut edges and lid, which often finds its way into the contents of the can upon opening it.

          While I can’t find specs on the can itself, Ball has been manufacturing steel cans for all sorts of food and beverage products for quite a while. If the thought of steel oxidizing and ruining your beer disturbs you, perhaps you should beware your baked beans, canned veggies, condensed milk, Spaghetti-Os and such, too.

          Sanitize everything, my friend. Meanwhile kids everywhere will be sucking on pennies, testing 9-volt batteries with their tongues, eating dirt, and otherwise living a normal, healthy life as presumably we all have.

        • May 9, 2012 at 7:37 am #

          I won’t go into the details of what it would take to contract tetanus under those circumstances.

          I take your point on hyberbole, but to pick up on satire it helps to have both body language and familiarity when determining same–things lacking in the average blogging post. I admit to being more than a bit literal-minded, but plead that I have no context in which to assess your comments. In other words if that was intended as satire it went over like screen doors on a submarine.

  15. May 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    techcommdude, you’re right on, and you took the words right out of my mouth. Well said. I just had Churchkey’s pilsner for the first time and I thought it was fantastic. And I was going into it with a negative bias, based on the “gimmick” aspect of it. But, damn, it actually performed. Not on par with the aforementioned Avery Brewing’s Joe’s Pilsner, but that’s a high bar. It’s still a really good pilsner, and I think it will appeal to newbies and beer geeks alike. I will buy it again for sure. Maybe if it takes off they’ll repackage it in modern cans.

  16. Diss Content
    May 9, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    You’re right massugu, these blogs do lack body language to assess the content of a comment which is truly truer than any truth. I should have considered that there would be ‘literal’ people who are poised to defend the inherent sanitary nature of the church key opener and offered some sort of indicator that my comment was neither scientific nor an abject condemnation of a sealing technology long abandoned by the free market.

    With that in mind, one can only surmise there is violent agreement on the ‘fact’ that Bass Ale’s early packaging system used fish as containers as that statement garnered no response and contained the same lack of body language.

    • Don
      May 9, 2012 at 11:10 am #

      The Bass comment was truly funny. Bill has a great sense of humor. I called him out on his choice of fish though. 😉

    • May 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      I think I detect irony there.

  17. Corey Jones
    September 4, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I absolutely love this beer for everything it’s not…love the throwback look, the feel of the can and this beer tastes amazing. I also feel the thinkness of the can keeps the beer colder longer than tap poured, glass bottles, or the modern day can.

    If this beer is too difficult to open for you, there are several other options for you, and hey…it’s obvious this beer is not for you.

    I take this beer sailing, camping, back yard barbecue’n, front porch lounging, Yakima river tube’n, fishing and have never had an issue…like the can says “its worth the effort”
    Put a liitle elbow grease into it!!! Because this beer is good!!!

  18. Andrew
    December 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Sound kinda premenstrual there, Don. It’s just fucking beer. It’s kind of a retro-cool concept that gets them noticed, and no..it’s not cool enough that I’d go out of my way to buy it..but…who cares?


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