Pry-off Beer Caps Gain an Edge Over Twist-offs


Construction contractor Mike Valentine orders only chicken off the bone and buys beer only if the bottle cap twists off.

"I don't want to work for my food and I don't want to work for my beer," Valentine, 44, said. "Plus, it makes me feel like a man that I can open a bottle with my hand."

On a recent Friday lunch hour, Valentine sipped a Budweiser at the Rye Roadhouse, a Cajun eatery in Rye, N.Y., the brown bottle still sweating condensation from the open ice cooler behind the bar.

Roadhouse co-owner and bartender Kevin Campbell, or "Soup" as his friends call him, uses a bottle opener on everything.

"Here, I don't twist off anything because after a long night my hands would be all scratched up," Campbell, 41, said. "But I'll admit at home it bothers me when it's not twist-off and I have to get up and find a bottle opener."

When the twist-off cap came into popular usage in the 1960s, the beer behemoths trumpeted its arrival as a modern convenience, similar to the way color television sets replaced black-and-white models.

But as national beer sales drop and corporate beer companies lose ground to smaller craft breweries, pry-off caps are seeing a resurgence. Some beer aficionados say the twist-off is the industry's Sony Walkman — once revolutionary but now passé.

The reason for the pry-off cap's resurgence is as elementary as the air we breathe — oxygen. Pry-offs keep it in, twist-offs do not, many experts say.

"It's a pretty simple equation: With a screw top, you can't get that on as securely as a pop top," said Joe Osborne, a spokesman for Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, Colo., a 19-year-old company that touts its "eccentric" beers and lagers. "In a nutshell, oxygen is bad for beer. It's the ultimate enemy."

The revival of pry-offs comes amid rising sales at craft breweries, which overwhelmingly use them. In 2010, these small-scale, independent operations grew 11 percent in production volume and 12 percent in revenue, according to the Brewers Association, a coalition with 27,000 members that includes small breweries, home brewers and retailers.

And a growing number of people brew their own beer at home and reuse glass bottles — usually with pry-off tops — to store their homemade mixture.

The craft brewing renaissance took off during the 1970s and '80s, as local breweries that had been disappearing for decades were replaced by smaller, independent firms.

According to the Brewers Association, today there are 1,829 small and independent craft brewers, who account for less than 10 percent of the nation's beer sales. In 2011, total beer sales in the country was 194 million barrels, according to the Brewers Almanac of the Beer Institute. (In the U.S., there are 31 gallons in a barrel of beer.)

Anheuser-Busch controls 48.3 percent of America's beer market. Its sales fell in 2009 to its lowest point in 10 years, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, a trade publication, and its beer production decreased last year by as much as 3 percent.


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