Flat-top beer cans didn’t debut until 1935 but their return does seem to prove the point Portlandia makes so eloquently: Artisanal food- and drink-makers are all about the methods of bygone eras. The latest example is Churchkey, a new beer company brewing in SoDo—in the back portion of Two Beers, to be exact. The company’s pilsner, which releases April 15, is available only in flat-top 12-ounce steel cans.
The idea came to cofounder Justin Hawkins over dinner at Portland’s Clyde Common. Plenty of people hatch brilliant ideas over a few drinks, but this time Entourage actor, sustainability advocate, and all-around handsome person Adrian Grenier happened to be at the table (he and Hawkins have a mutual friend). The upshot? Grenier and Hawkins founded Churchkey together, a craft beer-can company dedicated to reviving these old-school beer cans nearly 50 years after the tab top rendered them obsolete.
More craft brewers are embracing cans, and the flat top’s advantages are similar to those of a regular-can version: they block light and oxygen, weigh less to transport, and are tougher to break. They are also made of steel, versus aluminum for pop-tops. “It’s basically a mini keg,” says Hawkins. He also says the steel is more recycling-friendly than regular cans.
Inside the can, the crisply classic pilsner recipe comes from two Portland-based home brewers, Lucas Jones and Sean Burke. Hawkins connected with Two Beers brewer Joel VandenBrink in part because of his experience working with cans. VandenBrink serves as the company’s director of product; Churchkey has separate space, a dedicated tank, and its own canning operation in the back of the brewery.
The name Churchkey refers to the pointy-tipped opener (that would be a church key) used to puncture the top of the can and pry away wedge-shaped openings for drinking. That’s why so many cities have beer bars by this name. The process is surprisingly easy—even for those of us who suffer from laughable dexterity.
On April 15, Churchkey pilsner will arrive in Seattle-area bars (including the Linda Derschang empire of Linda’s, King’s Hardware, Smith, and the like) and high-end grocery stores, where each $10 six-pack will come with a church key. Hawkins says Churchkey will expand to other beer styles—using more recipes from home brewers—but that day is waaaayyyy down the road.