This Man Is on a Mission to Collect Beer Cans From Every Country in the WorldSeptember 22, 2020
When a BBC article mentioned that Bangladesh was producing two beers for the first time, André Marques knew he had to have them. Not to drink, but to display. The 54-year-old Brazilian is a prolific can collector, well known in the small community of enthusiasts who aim to collect at least one can from each country.
Over the years, he’d carefully monitored various countries that had yet to produce canned beer, waiting for the moment that the first aluminum can spun off the assembly line. The fact that Bangladesh, a Muslim country with strict alcohol regulations and restrictions, was making a pair of brews was incredibly exciting. But how to get them?
In an effort to secure the cans, Marques tried to email the BBC journalist, guessing at email nomenclature in an unlikely attempt to reach their inbox. Shockingly, it worked.
The journalist responded to say he was in Bangladesh, but was unwilling to send the cans—the post office was too inefficient and it was too risky. To make matters more challenging, just two weeks later, another BBC report said the production of the beer had been done without authorization for local authorities (not to mention the company had made near identical copies of Fosters and Carlsberg, but had renamed them Hunter and Crown, respectively), and that the government had collected and destroyed any stock on the market.
Marques sent a last ditch effort email to the journalist, beseeching him to send the cans, as he was his only hope. The writer didn’t respond, but three weeks later a cardboard box, wrapped inside a cloth bag that was sealed with wax arrived at Marques’ house. In it were the two (slightly dented) cans.
Now the two cans sit on the dozens of shelves spread throughout Marques’ home. Among them is at least one can from every country and territory that has ever produced a beer can or had one produced for them, save for three: Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, and Isle of Man.
“Collecting is an irrational activity,” Marques said of his collection. “It is a monster that you create without really understanding the reason and then you must take care of that monster.”
Marques specifically collects cans, not bottles, as they’re easier to display, transport, and trade—they’re also harder to break. Originally he was inspired to start collecting just over 30 years ago when Brazil started to experience greater openness in its economy. For the first time, imported beers began to appear in the markets. Compared to the local, macro lagers that previously dominated the grocery store shelves, these new beers were colorful, unique, and everything a potential collector would like to have to start a collection.
For collectors who specialize in what’s called One Can One Country (of which OCOC chapter president Mark Rodgers estimates a ballpark of 1,000 people worldwide), the most prized are brewed locally by a local brand. But if that’s not an option, the second best scenario is a beer can be brewed in another country, but with information printed on the can that proves the can was imported into that country. The last acceptable alternative is a can with a sticker indicating the importer.
An avid traveler himself, Marques, who works for the Brazilian Central Bank, has been to 127 countries (the United Nations recognizes 193 independent countries), as well as an additional 23 territories. Though his trips are often not helpful in getting the can, they have served to build a vast network of contacts.
“As soon as it is known that a country that has never had canned beer started to produce it, it is time to start devising a strategy to get that can,” Marques said.
Locating a person in a strange place that is trustworthy, helpful, willing to buy and empty the can, put it in a sturdy box so it’s not damaged in transit, take it to the post office, fill out myriad international shipping forms and send the package is no easy task. Many of Marques’ stories about obtaining new pieces for his collection involve translating obscure internet pages, finding and contacting former company employees, wiring money to locals to track down and mail elusive cans, and even talking museums and archives into giving him their sole remaining can.
The Bangladeshi cans, while challenging, weren’t even the hardest to obtain. That honor goes to one from his home country: the Alterosa Beer, first made in the 70s.
“It’s a rare and expensive can,” Marques said.
Although the company had been out of business for decades, internet sleuthing revealed a resume of a former director of the brewery who was still alive.
“I managed to contact him and he, in turn, had the phone number of one of the brewery's former vice presidents, who was the brother of the company’s president in the 1970s,” Marques said. “I ended up being able to talk to this man and asked him if by chance he wouldn’t have kept a can of the beer they produced. And he asked me, ‘Which one did I want?’”
Turns out, there was more than one brand the company produced in cans, something unknown to even the most prolific collectors. The second was the Port, a beer sparsely circulated. After some negotiations, the ex-president sent him the pair.
Rabbit holes like that are common for the hobbyist. Most of the time it’s challenging to find information about which was the first can made in each country.
“Collecting, very common in the USA, is culturally unthinkable in many countries,” Marques said. “Collecting beer cans is not a common worldwide habit. So this type of information has been lost in time, many times, and we are often surprised to discover that the can we thought was the first in a certain country in fact is not. That is why I always like to say that in the OCOC world, with rare exceptions, there are no definite truths. Surprises appear now and then.”
There are a handful of countries and territories that have never produced canned beers, either for religious reasons or lack of a manufacturing structure. According to Marques and the OCOC, most are in Africa and there’s never been production in Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. However, as soon as he hears production is happening, he’ll zero in on how to get his next prize.
He always tries to collect the first can launched in a given country, to keep his collection focused more on quality than quantity (though he does have over 5,000 cans spanning the globe), but whenever he’s able to snag another noteworthy can, he will, as is the case for his US placeholder.
His US can, made by Krueger, is not the first can produced stateside, but it is exceedingly rare. It features a cone top, a type of lid made in the 30s to 50s to take advantage of the assembly line for bottled beers.
Because there’s always the possibilities for upgrading, Marques said he doesn’t expect his mission will ever come to an end—there will always be something to look for. But for Marques it’s not just the prestige of the collection that drives him, but more so the stories and connections forged.
“It is a joy seeing that the trust placed in someone unknown on the outskirts of Niamey, in Niger, in the interior of the Congo or in Belize, people who are not collectors, do not drink beer and are not my friends, has a positive result,” Marques said. “My collection is a collection of beautiful stories. Stories of perseverance, reasoning, hope and much more success than failure.”