Long Life beer

An Ind Coope Long Life beer mat from the mid 1960s
An Ind Coope Long Life beer mat from the mid 1960s

Ind Coope's Long Life was Britain's best selling canned beer in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the only beer brewed specifically for canning.

Long Life was not the first canned beer. Canned beer was an American invention. The Gotfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey was the first brewer to sell canned beer. They launched a brand of canned beer, Krueger's Special Beer, in Richmond, Virginia on 24 January 1935. It was less than two years after President Roosevelt relaxed America's prohibition laws to allow the sale of beer with an alcohol content of up to 3.2%.[1] The original cans were enamel-lined. You needed to punch a hole in them with a sharp implement to get the beer out.

The first British company to sell canned beer was the Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli, Wales. Their cans were made of Welsh tin. They did not look like a conventional can, but were a cylinder with a cone on the top. They were more like a polish tin, than a beer can.

By May 1936, four UK breweries were selling canned beer. The cans were made by the Metal Box Company. [2]

Canned beer was an instant hit in the USA, but it did not catch on in the UK until the 1950s. People found cans easier to store in the fridge and easier to carry for picnics. The main reason people liked cans was that they did not have to bring the empties back. In the 1950s bottles were returned to the retailer in exchange for a deposit. One bottle manufacturer claimed that a typical beer bottle was re-used forty times. What do we know about recycling?

Ind Coope introduced Long Life in 1956. At the same time they also started selling canned lager, branded as Allsopp's Lager. [3]

Some of Ind Coope's early advertising featured a girl wearing a breton top pouring herself a glass of Long Life. This was in contrast to their advertising for Double Diamond which was aimed at men. The caption read 'It's smart, it's different, a new strong, bright beer in a can'. They picked up on some of the advantages of cans: 'easy to open, easy to store, easy to carry and no empties to return'. Easy to open might be stretching it a bit. You still needed to punch a hole in the can with a specially designed can opener.

Long Life can opener, 1960s
A Long Life can opener before ring pulls were introduced in 1964. You had to pierce the can in two places with this tool.

Ind Coope's adverts in the later 1950s and early 1960s emphasised how modern canned beer was. Sometimes they just showed the can, sometimes men and women enoying beer. They may have been trying to position Long Life as a unisex brand?

The UK's other large breweries also introduced canned beer in the 1950s. Watneys marketed their first cans in 1956. By 1959 there were 118 different brands of canned beer on the market.

Ind Coope's Long life was the brand that people recognised most and it became the leading brand of canned beer in Britain. In 1958 sales were up 72%. Mr Watson, Ind Coope's London Sales Director, said television and increased car ownership was making beer a drink to be enjoyed at home.[4]

Ind Coope's Long Life beer became more convenient in 1964 when Metal Box introduced the ring pull can.[5]

Long Life was still being promoted as the beer specially brewed for the can in the 1980s. By then it was facing competition from canned lager. Long Life continued into the 1990s, perhaps not such a long life in the world of beer brands?

How much did a can of Long Life cost?

In 1960 Ind Coope sold Long Life in 10 and 16 fluid oz cans. A 10 fluid oz can of Long Life cost 1s 4d in 1960. You could also buy them in packs of six.

In 1977 a small can of Long Life cost 18p from Victoria Wine.

What other canned beers were around in the 1960s?

This is a selection of some of the competition.

Source: 'Beer' published by the Consumers' Assoication in 'Which?' August 1960, pages 170-173

In the 1960s you paid a premium for beer in a can. If you factored in the deposit, it was cheaper to buy beer by the bottle. On all of these beers it was between 1d and 3½d cheaper to buy bottled rather than canned, once you had got your deposit back. Perhaps a reason for the success of Long Life was that it was only available in the can. The customer could not do a price comparison.

References

[1] Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer by Amy Mittelman, published Algora Publishing, 2008, page 106

[2] 'Substitute for the bottle' published in The Times, 20 May 1936 page 13

[3] Ind Coope & Samuel Allsopp Breweries: The History of the Hand by Ian Webster, page 47

[4] 'Big jump in canned beer sales', published in The Times, 26 March 1958, page 17

[5] 'Tin opener's days are numbered' published in The Times, 1 October 1964, page 12

By Steven Braggs, June 2020

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history
Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history