The email from a, shall we say, noted brewer with this news was accompanied with an introductory statement which read "Say what you will about Sam- this will be hitting the papers tomorrow I'm sure!" And it is a news worthy press release from Jim Koch of Sam Adams about its new beer can which reads in part:
Our new can design required a million dollar investment in special equipment tooling along with time, research and testing and resulted in a patent-pending design. We think that the difference will be a subtle but noticeably better drinking experience than the standard beverage can. We anticipate having this can in the market in May or June, so you can taste for yourself to see if you think it provides a slightly better experience. We've decided to make the patent-pending design available, without any royalty or license fee, to all craft brewers who would like to use this can. We're still working out the details with Ball, our can manufacturer, but we anticipate that any craft brewer will be able to purchase this unique can from Ball sometime this fall depending on how things go at Ball.
My immediate reaction was not bastardly but, unlike the PR tone of beneficence, I do see upsides for Sam Adams. First, I am not sure practically speaking that Sam Adams could they do otherwise? I mean a can is a can and are you going to fight to protect a patent for a can design that with a 1% to 5% tweek becomes another can that avoids legal liability? And, if you think about it, there is more money in the deal this way. Ball, the can manufacturer, gets more customers and Sam Adams may get a volume break. Which is good. Smart business for both businesses. Sam Adams may also avoid an exclusivity fee from Ball. If Ball is part owner of the design and are forced to avoid maximizing the benefit to them, Ball would be entirely in the right to ask for compensation for a smaller market. Finally, Sam Adams gets to brand the can style used by its competition of any take up this offer. Not sure if I am a craft brewer in a marketplace where I am trying to set myself apart from a lot of competitors doing much the same thing as me that I will go out and use an aspect of a competitor's branding. Shape is brand as much as colour is.
This may be the start of beer can design wars. It was interesting to note that Pennsylvania craft brewer Sly Fox has also recently announced an new form of can, one that opens into a metal cup. I don't drink beers from metal cups generally so can't say how this idea or the Sam Adams one will actually affect taste or sales.