The craft beer movement has always been partly a rejection of the mass consumption culture that has grown to dominate the beer scene in the United States. But one recently launched craft brewer is taking this philosophy even a step further. The founders of the Seattle, Wash.-based Churchkey Can Co. decided that a central part of their venture would be the package itself. In this case, as the company’s name suggests, the type of steel can not widely used since the 1960s that requires a church key to open it.
“Our philosophy is about engagement, participation, really making the most of every moment,” explains the actor Adrian Grenier, who is one of the founders of Churchkey Can Co., along with creative director Justin Hawkins and CEO Ryan Sowards. “For so long it’s been sort of a mass consumption culture that is really disconnected with the things we consume and then ultimately with our experiences. We’re no longer deriving the same enjoyment. So we want to go back to a time when people were putting in a little elbow grease to participate with their moments and their friends and their family and that’s what it’s about for us. It’s not just about mass consumption and guzzling it down without regard.”
The company launched in April 2012, and has started off with a Czech-style pilsner from a recipe by Portland, Ore.-based home brewers Lucas Jones and Sean Burke. Churchkey has partnered with the 5-year-old Two Beers Brewing Co. in Seattle to actually brew the beer.
Distribution is currently in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, but they hope to widen that to other major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Austin by the end of the year. They are also working on online sales.
The team says they realized that the reaction of some might have been a bit dismissive given the novelty of the church key can. A lot of effort, therefore, has gone into coming up with a beer that will be able to stand on its own. “We realized that we have to have an amazing product inside of this can or people are just going to call it a gimmick,” says Hawkins.
Adds Grenier, “It’s an old technology made new and fresh and that doesn’t bother us because we went to great lengths to make sure the beer was a top quality beer that people would come back for. We know that we’ll get people to try the product once, but we want them to come back again and again.”
There was also some concern that Grenier’s celebrity status—he’s starred in HBO’s comedy “Entourage” and films like “The Devil Wears Prada”—may outshine the product itself and the message behind it. But Grenier insists, “I’ve never been more upstaged by an inanimate object in my life. The can really is key for us and literally people want to talk about the can, they want to try the can.”
Oh, and what if you don’t still have your father’s or grandfather’s church key lying around the house somewhere? No sweat. Every six-pack comes with its own church key.
“Until the market is saturated enough, we’re going to continue to give them away and eventually we’ll make them available on an as-needed basis,” says Grenier.