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Heads up: Beer lovers, collectors converge here for national 'canvention'

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With the cry "The Party's in PittsBEERgh," the 33rd "canvention" of the Beer Can Collectors of America opens tomorrow. Beers opening, pouring and other related sounds will be prevalent through Sunday, as fans of empty cans and other "breweriana" create as well as buy and trade items for their collections.

Usually beer cans are the result of a bar. But it was beer cans that caused Jerry Lorenz to buy his Spring Garden tavern, which he named the Bierhaus, in 1986. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette photos)
Click photo for larger image.

Some 1,500 people from 40 states and 10 other countries are expected for a convention that won't be as flat as most. The Web site already is reminding them, "Don't forget to stop on the second floor [of the Westin Convention Center Hotel] and pick up your daily allotted bags of ice. Each registered guest is entitled to two bags of ice per day to handle all that cold beer in your coolers."

Canventioneers can visit an impressive number of hospitality rooms, hosted by clubs with names such as the Merry Bocksters. Thursday, they're welcome for Microbrew Night, a smorgasbord of 20 specialty beers from this region. Helping to pour them will be Pittsburgh's own Angelo Cammarata, who is in the Guinness Book of Records as the bartender with the longest pouring record, going back to midnight on April 7, 1933 -- the end of Prohibition. (He still can be found working the bar at his Cammarata's Cafe in West View.)

Friday, starting at 11 a.m., there will be Molly's Trolley tours of local breweries, brewpubs and bars.

They'll get things rolling tomorrow by boarding a bus for a tour of South Side taverns. But the first stop will be the official headquarters of the event: the big blue brick Bierhaus in the North Side's Spring Garden neighborhood.

Owner Jerry Lorenz, who's chairing this convention, bought the bar in part to be a working show-off case for his own amazing collection, which seems to fill every open space. He's even got beer trays stuck in a dropped ceiling where tiles should be.

As for cans, "There's only 800 here," he says with a shrug. "I have about 6,000 cans" -- from various decades, states and countries, and all of them different.

Lorenz, 56, started saving cans as souvenirs on a trip across the country he took with a buddy back in 1972. He'd stumbled into a hobby that was getting hot, and soon he had amassed thousands of cans. He joined the new Beer Can Collectors of America and went to his first canvention in 1974 in Des Moines, Iowa.

He hasn't missed a year since.

"This is a great way to get around the country, and you're right in your element," he says, sitting in his element in the bar's back room, wearing a "PittsBEERgh" T-shirt and an Iron City hat.

Each attendee of this week's 33rd annual "Canvention" will get an "air filled" -- empty -- can commemorating the event.
Click photo for larger image.

Despite also having a day job as a construction project manager at Carnegie Mellon University, Lorenz ran for president of the BCCA's local Olde Frothingslosh chapter just so he could bring a canvention to Pittsburgh. As payback for all the fun he's had over the years, he wants to make this one (four years in the making) the best ever. He and his yellow "Brew Crew" vest-wearing helpers (including his wife, Deborah) sure do have a lot on tap.

Co-sponsors Anheuser-Busch and Pittsburgh Brewing Co. each are donating 22 barrels of beer for various events, including Saturday's banquet, where the VIP guest will be Pittsburgh Brewing vice chairman Joe Piccirilli. Miss Beer Can will be there, too.

In addition to receiving an empty can commemorating this gathering, each attendee's "goodie bag" will have three full cans of Pittsburgh Brewing brew -- one Iron City, one I.C. Light and one Augustiner.

That's only appropriate since the Lawrenceville brewery has been famous since collecting's 1970s heyday for its commemorative cans featuring the Steelers, the Pirates and other sports themes. Also beloved by collectors were the cans featuring the ample attributes of the legendary "Miss Olde Frothingslosh," the bathing-suited beauty portrayed by Marsha Phillips of Rochester, Beaver County. She died in 2000 but remains the local chapter's mascot.

Jerry Lorenz keeps in a glass case behind the bar his favorite can, a "cone top" from the local Dutch Club Brand that dates back to 1936 or 1937. One of these rare cans recently sold for nearly $6,000.
Click photo for larger image.

Lorenz is an Iron City loyalist, but, he says, it's just a fact, if a little-known one locally, that Pittsburgh Brewing released the first "snap top" can (in conjunction with Alcoa) and the first draft beer in cans (if there can be such a thing).

His favorite can dates back to within a year or two of when cans were introduced, 1935. It's a blue Eberhardt & Ober Dutch Club with a "con top" that allowed brewers to cap them on their bottling lines. He paid $40 and said he saw one go for $5,800 recently on eBay, which has put a head on breweriana prices. The resurgence of the "craft" part of the brewing industry also has increased interest, according to the Fenton, Mo.-based BCCA.

It's not the fad it was in the '70s, Lorenz says, "but there still are a lot of serious collectors" like him -- 4,000 of them active in the BCCA. Not that they're that serious.

A lot of the canvention is light-hearted insider stuff, such as the "Rusty Bunch Dump" that will occur at noon Saturday on the trading floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Collectors will literally dump a bunch of old cans on the floor for folks to freely root through.

But Saturday also is the day the "trade floor" is open to the public (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; admission is $5). Some 400 exhibitors' tables will be full of breweriana, which ranges from bottle caps and labels to steins and trays and every other kind of sign and advertising item.

Nonmembers can partake of all the festivities for $40, if invited by a member as a guest.

For more details, visit the Web sites or or call 412-527-5622.

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at or 412-263-1930.

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