: Photo: Coors BrewingBeer and gadgets have gone hand in hand since Babylonian brewmeisters first used clay pots to ferment their mash. In the millennia since, technological innovations have often accompanied beermaking, and occasionally improved it
. Some were quite important. The recycling breakthrough invention of the aluminum can comes to mind, as well as the double-barreled beer hat. We look at some of the most notable modern beer conveniences.
A couple of weeks ago, drunks, er, beer connoisseurs celebrated the 50th anniversary of the seamless, recyclable aluminum beer can. Coors released it on Jan. 24, 1959, after two years in development. The 7-ounce can launched the recycling era, allowed beer to be packaged without pasteurization and reduced the metallic aftertaste of beer in cans.
Coors historians say the environmental-waste issue was a huge reason for William K. Coors' push for the can, but financial incentives played their part. A better-tasting, fresher product meant the company could restart the beer market on its terms, and it lowered shipping costs. Within a few years, every major beermaker used aluminum cans.
: Photo: MJLphoto.com/FlickrWe don't know who came up with the beer helmet, but invention was true genius and deserves the eternal gratitude of sports fans around the world. The design is simple: Place one beer can on a plastic or metal harness on opposite sides of a drinker's helmet and attach plastic tubes to each. The user then gets to sip happily, while others fake indifference to hide their raging jealousy.
: Photo courtesy AsahiThe rise of microbreweries in the last 20 years has opened up the global market and intensified the competition with the big legacy breweries. It has also forced breweries to come up with crazy new ideas to keep customers. Enter the chatty, R2D2-like robot from Japan called the Asahi Refrigerator Robot. The Asahi brewery developed 5,000 of them in 2006 for a promotion of its new malt beer, and customers played a public lottery to win one.
The robot is as cute as Wall-E, but instead of wandering around an abandoned planet making cubes of trash, it does something useful — it pours you a beer. Each robot refrigerator belly is packed with six cans of beer and two chilled mugs. When the owner presses a button, the robot puts out a can, opens it and pours the beer, usually without spilling too much. It's as slow and as talkative as any neighborhood bartender, and you have to manually place the mug on the robot's hand, because, well, what did you expect from a beer company giveaway?
: Two German research professors recently created the first beer coaster with embedded accelerometers, pressure sensors and a radio transmitter to determine when a glass of beer needs to be refilled. Hard to believe, but this might not be first time educators with long hours to fill and beer produce a crazy scheme.
Andreas Butz, from the University of Munich, and Michael Schmitz, from Saarland University, created a mat that measures the weight of the glass precisely and notifies the staff when it's ready for another round. The researchers say the mat costs $100, but they think it could improve service wait times significantly.
They'd like to see it be used for fun interactive bar games. For example, in a Jeopardy-style pub game, a contestant could "ring-in" the answer by shaking the coaster vigorously. Sounds embarrassing, but it could work. The only setback we can think of is that it's too probably too heavy to be flipped through the air like a Frisbee after a long night of revelry.
: In Tokyo bars, malls and heavily trafficked areas, these machines come packed with motion-activated ads, interactive touchscreens and plenty of beer options. Often, the bar establishment provides a clean glass that a customer places on the machine's slot, and the machine takes it from there with style. A hooking mechanism secures the glass with a giant claw and tilts it 45 degrees for the optimal amount of foam. Using motion sensors, the machine can tell when the glass is full, and releases it softly on the beer mat.
: John Cornwell graduated from Duke University only a couple of years ago, but his beer-launching refrigerator has sent him to the top of the beer brotherhood. The mechanism can grab a beer from the fridge and toss it to him.
Cornwell's machine features an automatic elevator that pushes a beer can through a hole at the top (using a remote control), and when it gets to the tilted enclosure base, it slides securely into a catapult. Once in its clutch, the recoiled arm sends the can flying through the air up to 20 feet with a single push of a button.
According to Cornwell, it took him 150 hours and $400 to turn his small vanity fridge to an inspired tool for lazy men with heavy drinking habits. During development, he managed to bust up the walls in his home with holes, and almost destroyed one of his TVs.
Why didn't he just move his refrigerator closer to his La-Z-Boy?
: Photo courtesy The Beer MachineThe brew-your-own Beer Machine was almost as big a hit in the infomercial big-hair, big-boob circuit of the late 1980s as the Veg-O-Matic and the Ginsu knife. I can see you're skeptical, but let me break it down for you.
Created by brewer Michael Lewis to give at-home buyers a simple way to make their own beer, the Beer Machine had simple features: a pressure-release valve with a carbonation rig maintains correct CO2 levels and a dubious selection of packaged Beer Mixes. While we've heard that the beer tasted a bit flat, the brewing process was pretty simple. You just added some water into the cask, added the Beer Mix and then waited 7 to 10 days. In the meantime, of course, you could have made 20 trips to the corner store.
The Beer Machine was a staple of late-night infomercial TV in the 1980s. It's still available, and a Valentine's Day special has it for only $140.
Robert Smith of Dresden, Germany, invented the wood-pulp coaster (known to collectors as "beer mats
" in 1892. The first coaster, derived from an earlier invention, a wooden wagon-style box that was pushed along the bar, was made out of wood pulp. Smith heated and pressed the pulp to make flat "crackers" of sawdust, which made them somewhat flimsy. According to coaster collectibles, the first coasters were also thick, twice the size of the "classic" 1-mm coasters of today.
Companies started printing ad labels on coasters. (Before Prohibition, coasters mostly carried the names of the company that made them.)
The materials, sizes and shapes of coasters have changed over the years. Versions of cork, plastic, paper and even leather have been used. Shortly after World War II, coasters measured 4 inches square, but by the 1980s, most were merely 3 inches square, and thinner.
: Photo: Bruce Tanner/Flickr A kegerator can be as simple as a refrigerator that's been stripped on the inside so it can accommodate a beer keg, with taps installed on the outside for easy dispensing. But that's like saying a car is basically a motorized vehicle with four wheels. In reality, this staple of fraternities and dorm rooms everywhere is a canvas for its owner's personality. Whether it's covered in bumper stickers, spray-painted with anarchist slogans or pimped out like a low-rider
, nothing says "I'm a guy and I love beer" like a kegerator in the living room.
: Photo courtesy Cooper CoolerThe $80 Cooper Cooler
doesn't use rocket science — it basically bathes your beer can or wine bottle in ice water — but it does so with speed and aplomb. Dump in two trays of ice cubes, two cups of water and a beer can, and turn it on. The cooler rapidly spins the can, chilling it to 43 degrees within a minute without agitating it. Now that's cool!
: The flat-top can style popularized by Krueger in 1935 had no easy-access openings. The flat metal top had to be opened with a rudimentary tool called "the church key," a big metal hook that was at first almost 5 1/2 inches long, and 3/4 inches wide. Not comfortably pocketable. The design stayed the same for 25 years, until Ohio engineer Ermal Fraze came up with the pull tab in 1959.
Fraze figured out how to notch an embedded opening that would stay on until it was pulled, wouldn't require much strength and wouldn't blow up from internal pressure. While he succeeded in those aspects (with 75 percent of all cans getting the pull-tab treatment by 1965), the tab had other flaws he didn't anticipate: Its sharp edges resulted in injuries to drinkers, including cut fingers and lips. The tabs were designed to be torn off, so it was easy to discard them on the street. The debris resulted in wildlife choking deaths and injured feet on beaches.
In response to the safety problems, Daniel F. Cudzik invented the Stay Tab can in 1975, and Louisville's Falls City Brewing Company was the first brewery to feature them. The stay tab worked by forcing the pull tab into a "scored" area in the lid that leveraged the pulling force of the user, but without completely separating the tab from the can. By the mid-1980s almost all cans had a stay tab.
: Photo courtesy Tempra TechnologyLast year, Tempra Technology
announced the first beer-bottle apparatus that cools a liquid without external necessities like fridges, ice or the icy stare of the girl sitting on the corner stool.
The 16-ounce Instant Cool Can reduces a beer's temperature by 30 degrees Fahrenheit within three minutes by displacing its heat to an insulated heat-sink chamber at the bottom of the container. Tempera Technology boast that you just twist the bottom of the can, and then "the all natural desiccant contained within a vacuum draws the heat from the beverage through the evaporator into an insulated heat-sink container." It's science!
But there's a downside. Because the heat-sink apparatus takes up about a third of the volume inside the can, you only get 10.5 ounces of beer out of a pint-size can. That means you'll likely pay more for the benefit of using the tech. But hey, it sure beats drinking warm beer.
Foster Beers is in talks with Tempra to offer the self-chilled beer within the next year, Tempra says.
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