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COM: February 2014

Amana Beer: 1976

 

Amana Beer. Amana Beer.

This month let's look at a can that was part of a collecting frenzy just as the beer can collecting hobby was taking off. It's an Amana Beer from Gemeindebrau, Inc. in Iowa, brewed by Cold Spring Brewery in Cold Spring, Minnesota in 1976.

Amana Society

Amana Beer was named for a local religious colony. The Amana Colonies contained seven villages in east-central Iowa. The villages were settled by German Pietists, fleeing persecution in Germany in the mid-19th century. Calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration (German: die Gemeinde der wahren Inspiration), they first settled in New York, but moved to Iowa in 1856 seeking more isolated surroundings. Until 1931 the Amana Colonies maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy by concentrating on specialized crafting and farming skills that they had brought from Europe, making their own furniture, clothes, and other goods. In 1931, in desperate financial condition due to the Depression, they voted to form a for-profit organization, the Amana Society, which included the Amana Corporation which made appliances.

Gemeinde Brau & Amana Beer

In 1972 Paul Zimmerman, owner of Gemeinde Brau, approached the Amana Society to get permission to sell Amana Beer. Zimmerman did not have his own brewery, but apparently planned to hire an established brewery to make the beer, which his company would market and sell. The Amana Society refused. This did not stop Zimmerman.

In late 1975 Cold Spring Brewing in Minnesota began producing Amana Beer for Gemeinde Brau. According to news stories at the time, they only made 1,700 case (40,800 cans) total. They were sold in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas in December 1975, but further production and distribution was almost immediately halted by an injunction granted when the Amana Society filed a petition in federal court. Gemeinde Brau was forbidden by the court from further distributing or advertising Amana Beer.

The Frenzy

Word quickly spread among collectors that Amana Beer cans would be in short supply and collectors and would-be investors began descending on grocery stores in the Iowa City area trying to get their hands on as many cases as they could. A store manager of Randall's Supermarket in Coralville, Iowa purchased as many cases as he could get, eventually getting about 550 cases, about 1/3d of the total produced. He got more than he bargained for as customers from around the midwest descended on his store trying to grab this new "rare" can. One buyer purchased 250 cases by himself, then dumped the beer out to take home just the empty cans. The manager posted a sign"one six pack per customer," but found himself spending his day arguing with people who wanted more. The harried manager told a reporter "I just wish it would sell out."

Amana cans became a bit of a craze. I began collecting in 1976 and I remember getting an Amana Beer can was a big deal. Cans began selling for a dollar each, then $3.00, then $5.00. The man who bought 250 cases thought they'd end up selling for $25 each. Note that the normal price at the store was about 31 cents a can.

To (probably) no-one's surprise, Gemeinde Brau lost the lawsuit. In July 1976 the court ordered that all advertising material and unfilled cans were returned to the Amana Society to be destroyed. Gemeinde Brau also had to turn over any profits they made from selling the beer and they had to pay the Amana's Society's lawyers' fees.

The Cans

The Amana cans are a good example of a can that could not be reissued. That was not true of other desirable obsolete cans. Old Frothingslosh reissued their first 12 oz can and I discussed the King Snedley's can a few months ago. So, was the Amana can a good long-term investment? Many ended up being purchased by people specifically to save them, so even after almost forty years they're not rare. You could find one at a show today for about $4.00 at most, which is about what it costs in 2014 to buy what a dollar bought in 1976.

Gemeinde Brau.

A Gemeinde Brau from the same brewery.
It's not rare either, although it is a nice-looking can.

Addendum

Kolonie Brau.

 

I picked up this can in a collection recently. It's a Kolonie Brau from Gemeinde Brau in Amana, Iowa and it was produced by Cold Spring Brewery. Note the label text "from an old Amana, iowa Formula." The can is from 1979. It looks like they made one last attempt to market Amana Beer. I like how they spelled "Kolonie" so as to avoid looking as if it came from the Amana Colony. They also claim it came from an "Amana IOWA" (emphasis added) rather than the Amana colony. The can is worth about a dollar.

Sources

Wikipedia Article on the Amana Society (accessed 1/29/14)

FindACase.com. Amana Socy vs. Geimeindebrau (accessed 1/29/14)

The Cedar Rapids Gazette had numerous stories about the beer in January 1976.

The March 1976 issues of the BCCA's News Report also had several stories.

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