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The Sam Can: a 2-year, $1 million journey

Posting in Design

The manufacturing process has been refined over decades to produce 2,000 cans per minute for pennies each. And for decades, Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch has snubbed aluminum cans -- costing the brewer millions of dollars in potential revenue from airlines and sports arenas. Now, two years and over $1 million later, the Sam Can is coming. Boston Globe reports.

To launch the initiative, Koch contracted with IDEO, designers of the original Apple mouse, and assembled a team for project codename Bunker Hill.

In summer 2011, they traveled to Ball’s factory near Denver to study the canning process -- the thickness of aluminum, molecular properties, how beer pours from a can, and what impacts the flow. They hung out with well-lubricated football fans in Foxborough to understand why drinkers prefer beer in cans -- they account for roughly 57 percent of the US retail market… interviewed taste experts around the world and examined thousands of plastic coffee cup lids to understand the range of drink delivery options.

Their big discovery: the conventional 12-ounce beverage can doesn’t allow enough air into your mouth as you drink. Turns out, much of what we believe we taste is actually smell.

Over several months, IDEO created eight prototypes to enhance air flow. Ball also shared some innovations, and when all the designs were tested, all the participants in a blind taste test preferred a design featuring a curve below a wider lid. Koch agreed. (See some of the designs in this video.)

The design was tweaked six times over several months. Beer specialist Roy Desrochers was hired to conduct professional tasting panels and gave his final evaluation in February:

The hourglass curve and wider lid deposits the beer further in the mouth so a drinker doesn’t have to tilt his head back...

The bigger lid forces people to open their mouths wider, allowing more air to pass through and go up into the nasal passages. This increased exposure to the smells brings out the flavors of the beer -- the hops, the grains, the fruitiness -- earlier in the drinking experience... And the outward-turned lip pours the beer directly on the palate, maximizing the sweetness from the malt.

With that, new canning equipment was ordered, and Sam Cans -- with a wider lid, an opening slightly further from the edge, an extended lip, and an hourglass ridge -- should roll out this summer.

[Samuel Adams Blog Via Boston Globe]

Images: Samuel Adams

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— By on May 17, 2013, 5:47 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure