Q: It seems like the longneck bottle and Texas beer used be synonymous with each other, but over the past few years the beer section at my local grocery store has been stocked with more and more canned Texas beers and fewer and fewer bottled Texas beers. In fact, this seems to be the case in all beer sections I visit. What gives? Where have all the longnecks gone?
Ward Michaels, Austin
A: The Texanist is a man who relishes the good times. And oftentimes what can make the difference between regular old ordinary times and the good times is the presence of ice-cold beer. There are many ways for a person to take his or her cold ones, like, say, from a mug or a can or a pint glass or a plastic cup or a beer bong or even directly from a keg while being held atop it in a handstand position during Spring Break on South Padre in 1985, or so the Texanist has been told. But there is something particularly satisfying about doing so from a longneck bottle.
Among all the beer-bearing vessels one comes across at the local grocery store and the local watering hole, i.e. 12-ounce cans, 40-ounce bottles, tallboys, ponies, stubbies, and bombers and so on, the longneck has been a reliable standby for a long time. And, as you have suggested, this particular container does have an especially close association with Texas and Texas-style good-timing.
Texas brewers, like their counterparts in much of the rest of the country, started using longneck-type bottles in the 19th century and continued to do so even after the advent of canning technology in the early part of the 20th century. But at some point the longneck seems to have fallen out of favor, and the can and what is widely known as the “stubby” bottle came to dominate the beer sector. Until, that is, a few enterprising Texans had an idea that changed the world of beer packaging forever.
Understanding this particular origin story requires a trip back to the early seventies, as the redneck rock and cosmic cowboy musical movement was mushrooming in Austin, bringing the shitkickers and hippies together. Come along with the Texanist, won’t you? Lone Star Beer, which had long been the libation favored by crusty old cowboys, had suddenly found itself losing out to interloping Budweiser in the lucrative market for hip young folk. But in 1973 a plan was hatched at the Armadillo World Headquarters, the epicenter of the aforementioned scene—where Willie Nelson or the Lost Gonzo Band might be on the stage one night and the Sir Douglas Quintet or Frank Zappa the next—to boost Lone Star’s image among the youthful and thirsty demographic.
Famed ‘Dillo dweller and poster artist Jim Franklin, the man who put the armadillo in the Armadillo, was hired by Lone Star to work on an ad campaign and came up with a beautifully simple slogan that captured the carefree undercurrent of the zeitgeist that was emanating from that time and place: “Long Live Long Necks.” The resulting posters, bumper stickers, and radio spots helped to solidify the burgeoning brotherhood between the rednecks and the hippies, who were bonding over the hybridization of their musics. Before long, the longneck beer bottle and that cultural movement were joined at the hip for all of eternity. Lone Star sales were up and the longneck was becoming a bona fide trend. Or at least a very popular accoutrement of a trend.
And then in 1980 Urban Cowboy hit the big screen and the Texas chic trend hit the bigtime. Longnecks, filled with both Lone Star and other non-Texan beers, were everywhere. You could get a longneck at the Lone Star Café, in New York City, and just about anywhere across the country. In 1982, this publication printed a story headlined “The Beer That Made Armadillos Famous” that noted, “Lone Star longnecks had become a Texas institution and a nationwide symbol for the Lone Star State.” That same year, the venerable New York Times published a story about longnecks headlined “Texas, This Beer Bottle Is for You.” That story quoted Sherwood Cryer, the founder and manager of the famed Houston nightclub Gilley’s, saying, ”We don’t handle anything but longnecks…when they’re dancing with the gals, they stick it in their back pocket, and they hold onto the son-of-a-guan everywhere they go…I tried cans in here for a long time because these boys are bad about fighting with bottles. They’d throw a bottle clear across the room and if they broke a bottle and started fighting with it, it could get unfortunate.” Even so, the cans, Cryer told the paper, didn’t sell. All anybody wanted was a longneck.
That was then. Today, as Texas enjoys the fruits of a blossoming craft brewing craze, there are a lot more local beers on the market. And, yes, many of them come in cans. There are a few reasons for this, including production costs, packaging costs, usability (trips to the pool, the lake, the river, the beach, the campsite, etc.), quality protection (cans do a superior job of preventing the penetration of flavor-depleting sun rays and oxygen), and so forth. But many of these new brews come off the line in longneck bottles, too.
So, while it may appear that there are fewer longnecks in the beer section these days, the Texanist suspects that the actual number of available longnecks has actually increased. It’s the astonishing upsurge in the number of canned beers that makes the population of bottled brew look so puny in comparison. The Texanist bases this rigorously researched conclusion on frequent visits to beer section of his neighborhood grocery store—an immaculate corner of that establishment so well-tended to that it has its own Twitter account.
But rest assured: among those who toil in the North American beer industry, the longneck bottle is formally known as the “industry standard bottle.” And the standard it remains. Trust the Texanist when he says that the longneck ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Now, all of that said, the important thing to remember is that when it comes to beer, the method of delivery, be it a longneck, a can, or a keg on a Spring Break beach, is, at the end of the day, much less important than the deliverable itself. Here’s to the good times, and to the various vessels whose contents are key to making them happen. Long may they live! All of them!
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the December 2018 issue.