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The next big thing? New beer can goes topless

Jim Galligan

Imagine finding David Chang's world-class cooking in a food truck parked at your campsite or tailgate party, and you’ll see the allure of craft beer in cans: truly excellent gastronomical goodness anywhere you want it.

Now imagine only being able to eat Chang’s steamed Cantonese pork buns with a clothespin on your nose, and you’ll understand the shortcoming of craft beers in cans – the small opening on the lid robs your senses of the beer’s aroma, a major component of its flavor.

Related: See a nerdy GIF on opening the can

Sly Fox Brewing Company in Pennsylvania is the first American brewery to offer a solution to this firmly first-world problem with a beer can that can go topless. They’re calling it the 360 Lid.

"This technology allows the full flavor and aroma of the beer to hit the drinker's senses," Sly Fox’s head brewer Brian O'Reilly told TODAY.com.

The 360 Lid is basically the pull-tab top of soup can fused onto a traditional beer canister. To open it, you pull the tab up (a startling hiss of carbonation erupts as you do this) and then peel the lid away from the can, exposing a 1.75-inch-wide opening.  Viola – instant beer cup!

While the design solves a problem for beer drinkers, it also brings up concerns about safety, particularly about slicing open your lips or fingers.  A spokesperson for Crown Beverage Packaging North America, the company that designed the 360 Lid, says there’s nothing to worry about.

“Once the lid is removed, consumers do not come into contact with any rough edges as they drink from the can,” Brian Thiel, a regional sales manager for Crown told TODAY.com.

Despite these assurances, I was a little tense for the first few sips, as I feared my upper lip would snag the inner edge where the lid was torn away from the can. This didn’t happen, and I soon settled in with the vessel, happily enjoying the full aroma and flavor of the beer inside. 

I also attempted to slice my fingers open on the edge of the removable lid with (thankfully) no success.  It’s blunted enough to keep your soft parts safe, even when you apply a good deal of force. It’s hard to see the lid posing any kind of threat, even when left behind by litterbugs.

After trying out the can – which helped bring out aroma and flavor nuances in the brew – one wonders why this hasn’t happened sooner.

And, as it turns out, it’s idea that’s been around for a few years. The can was originally developed by Crown Beverage Packaging in partnership with beer giant SABMiller, and was first introduced in 2010 at the FIFA World Cup tournament in South Africa. Since then, the innovative lid has been deployed in Latin America and Asia.  Sly Fox’s rollout of the design in marks its North American debut.

Sly Fox is offering just one 360 Lid-topped beer across their Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey distribution area: their Helles Golden Lager, a 4.9 percent ABV German-style beer that has a mild peppery hop profile and a gentle malty finish.  It’s the kind of beer that can be enjoyed by beer geeks and Bud-lovers alike, and its selection shows that Sly Fox is aiming squarely at the center of the consumer target with this novel new vessel. 

But there are hurdles.  Samuel Adams also considered an open-topped design when researching the shape of their new can, but abandoned it because, as brewery founder Jim Koch told the Boston Globe, they discovered that the tear-off top violates litter laws in some states, and that the large opening made some consumers nervous that bugs and other debris would get into their beer.

Despite these challenges, Brian Thiel from Crown Beverage Packaging says the 360 Lid generated a lot of interest at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C.

“Brewers are recognizing the unique value that this innovation has to offer – both to enhance their beers and build stronger brands – and we can’t wait to start seeing it in stores on our other craft beer partner’s cans,” he said.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.