In 1975, Daniel F. Cudzik developed the stay-on tabs we encounter when opening cans of soda, beer—any liquid packaged in a cylinder of aluminum. It was the future, and the can-opening technology of the decades leading up to the innovation became obsolete. What Adrian Grenier and his partner Justin Hawkins would like is to take you back, to the early decades of 20th century, to a time when opening a metal can of beer required a device known as a church key (if you have an old-school can opener in your house, the less elaborate end is probably a functioning church key).
Churchkey Can Co., the result of Grenier and Hawkins' partnership, is a Pilsner-style craft beer packaged in a steel flat top can, the sort some apple juice is still available in, the kind you bought erroneously and is now sitting forgotten in a cupboard with an inch of dust settled across the top. You haven't drank the apple juice, but Grenier and Hawkins are betting you'll drink their beer.
We spoke with the Entourage star about why an antiquated technology makes for a better drinking experience, and whether Vinnie Chase and friends would indulge.
Complex: How’d you first become involved with Churchkey?
Adrian Grenier: You see in movies, and you hear about the legacy of great brands from the past: Things happen over a beer and a handshake. Justin and I were sitting down one night, reminiscing about the old flat top cans and how fun it would be to try one ourselves. Then we realized they didn’t exist anymore, so we shook hands and vowed to do it together.
How did you meet Justin?
I had met him several weeks before through mutual friends. I was in Portland, visiting, and we met, got along really well. It was serendipity.
What's your early memory of the flat top cans?
I don’t recall, as a kid, ever seeing the flat top can. But I remember the pull-tabs for sure. [Ed. Note—The pull-tab was the predecessor of the stay-on tab.] It was more what you get from the media.
Stuff that exists in the American imagination.
Exactly. It’s almost our postmodern right to have experiences that we’ve been trained to remember, even though we weren’t there.
So, you shake hands and then what happens?
Once Justin created this beautiful package, with its amazing design, we thought: What’s the next step? We needed someone with beverage experience. Someone with money. We needed someone to make the beer. We started pounding the pavement, calling everyone we knew to drum up support. Because the concept was so strong, everyone wanted to see this happen. Collective will makes things a lot easier.
Justin talked to his buddies across the street, who are homebrewers, and they agreed to make the beer. Then we brought on Ryan, who we knew through a mutual friend, because we’d heard he knew a lot about the beverage business. He was so blown away by the concept, he quit his job to do this full-time. Then we needed willing money, which we found in San Francisco.
I know Churchkey is available in the Pacific Northwest, but is it available in New York?
But you live here.
Don’t rub it in. It’s been a point of contention. I mean, I can’t even buy my beer in my own city. But really, it’s because we’re a small company; we want to grow organically and make sure we’re serving the community that we launched from properly. We’ve hit three territories in two-and-a-half months, which is pretty fast. But we don’t have enough product to move faster. We’re trying to be careful.
When you picture the person drinking this beer, who do you see?
I’m sure you’ll chuckle, but everyone. I really do mean it. It appeals to people who are looking for more of a meaningful experience from the things they consume. We’ve been trained to accept mass consumption, this ready-made, fast-food mentality. But that’s only made us fat and lazy and disconnected.
Beyond that, it’s a fun experience to share with friends. Who doesn’t want that? And just on a service-industry level, there’s added value. You open a bottle of wine, a bottle of Champagne—why not give the customer a little added value by opening their beer? Or give them the church key so that they can open their own beer?
Would you say, then, that it’s about bringing a greater sense of ritual to the process?
Absolutely. And reflecting the values of the past: hard work and reward.
Nostalgia is part of this.
Absolutely. It’s undeniable. We’re looking back to build a better future.
How involved will you be in the marketing of this beer?
Well, I’m obviously 150 percent behind the beer and the brand, just as a guy. But I recognize that I have a bigger presence, and as much as possible I’d like to share this with the audience that appreciates the other things I’m doing.
But you mean, like, 40-foot billboards of me saying “Mmm, that tastes good”?
Could that happen?
Not right now. We don’t have the marketing budget. But more fundamentally speaking, our strategy is to get the product to people who will care about it and let them spread the word. Our campaigns will be story-based. We’re coming out with a video that will focus on our homebrewers and tell their story. Nothing will be disconnected from the story of the can and the people who make it. We’re not going to have a bunch of random hot girls drinking the beer. I don’t think an Entourage-esque style of promotion is what we’re trying to do.
I’m interested in what I see as the difference between the glitz of a show like Entourage and what you’re doing here, which is paced differently.
Ironically, there’s a contradiction between who I am and I what I represent on the show. Churchkey isn’t mass consumption. A lot of people don’t know this, but Vincent Chase is a stretch for me. This is actually more my speed. People that really know me understand that.
After having been Vinnie Chase for so long, do you see Churchkey as a way to distance yourself from Entourage?
No. Look: At the end of the day, even though there was a lot of conspicuous consumption on the show, fundamentally it was about friendship and about sharing life and good times with your friends. So, I don’t think it’s completely incongruous. Of course, as the years go by, I’m looking to do new things. But, that being said, I’m going to go do the movie. I’m not trying to distance myself from Entourage at all. I’m very proud of the show. I think it’s great entertainment. Churchkey is just another extension of my personality.