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When Was the First Beer Can Race?

With most beer can racing starting in April, Richmond Yacht Club sailor John Dukat was curious about when the first beer can race might have been held. The internet wasn’t much help, though he did uncover a couple of fun facts:

According to a 2008 story in the Los Angeles Times, the beer can races are named for the “bobbing pop-top cans that once marked the course,” adding that the races had been a part of the local sailing scene for at least 50 years. The story goes on to report that during the more recent beer cans, sailboats were being stopped, mid-race, by Harbor Patrol officers who claimed the boats were exceeding the harbor’s 5 mph speed limit.

John also discovered the origin of the actual beer can itself. The “find an answer to obscure questions” website Mental Floss says beer cans evolved in the early 1930s (just before the end of Prohibition) when the American Can Company and New Jersey brewers Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company put 2000 cans to the test with their Krueger’s Special Beer. According to Mental Floss, 91% of the drink-test-dummies, gave the 12-ounce canned brew “rave reviews.” Apparently the 3.2% alcohol beer outshone the usual bottled beers with a taste closer to the draft beer everyone missed. The cans were also a winner in the financial stakes, with reduced shipping costs and because the cans didn’t require close inspection for their reuse.

Earlier attempts at beer cans had been made by Pabst and Anheuser-Busch in the 1920s, but the introduction of the 18th Amendment (the forerunner to Prohibition) put an end to their plans.

In fact, the beer can was so successful that in addition to giving birth to fun, casual sailboat racing, the beer can has its own official calendar date — Beer Can Appreciation Day. We missed this year’s; it always occurs on January 24. But now that we know, it’s on the calendar for 2025.

Beer Can Racing poster depicting a sailor leaning over a healed sailboat. He is reaching out to fill a glass beer mug from a spigot on a humungous can of beer floating in the ocean.
A big thanks to John Dukat for alerting us to things we didn’t know we needed to know.
© 2024 Richmond Yacht club

Here on the Bay, beer can racing is a well-loved summer pursuit. And while most Bay Area “Beer Can Racing” starts in May, it should be noted that the dedicated sailors at Berkeley Yacht Club run theirs from 3/15 to 9/27, and Coyote Point Yacht Club from 3/3 to 10/23.

You can look up all the Bay Area beer can races in our Northern California Sailing Calendar here. Sail more by signing up for one near you.

Read up on the beer can “rules” before you get to your next start line.

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