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Shaye Anderson

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A Brief History of America's Favorite Beer Companion, the Koozie

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Considering the koozie, and is there any real science behind it?

For many, the onset of summer’s dog days means that it’s wedding season: the time of year when we relish in open bars and cringe at the thought of taffeta. For others, it’s simply beach weather, when bobbing in the ocean—Corona in hand—is a top priority. For homeowners, summer means intense outdoor lawn care and maintenance, capped off by a relaxing swing in a hammock with an icy brew.

What do all these versions of summer have in common? They all indicate that it’s primetime koozie season.

The koozie (aliases: beer cozy, beer jacket, drink huggie) is everyone’s lockstep fun-in-the-sun method toward ensuring beers, sodas and (let’s be honest) more beers stay cool as we clutch them—sip-by-sip—like summertime lifeblood.

Name aside, the history of the koozie is as squishy and malleable as the product itself. Many claim that a beta version was originally introduced in Australia during the mid-1970s, where it became known as a "stubby holder" and was quickly adopted by surfers.

Others trace its inspiration back even further to the centuries-old English practice of knitting tea cosies in order to ensure pots of Earl Grey stay piping hot (and charmingly twee) over the course of an afternoon. In more ways than one, the koozie functions as an inverted version of the tea cosy. Where the cosy is adorable, the koozie is unapologetically garish. Where the cosy keeps heat in, the koozie shields against warmth.

... the product’s novelty and functionality appealed to drinkers, while the miniature-billboard status allowed car dealerships ... to use thousands of people as human advertisements.

In America, the koozie didn’t rise to prominence until the synthetic-material-loving, brand-happy 1980s. The first iteration (known as an "insulated drink cozy") was patented by Idahoan Bonnie McGough in 1981 and specifically designed for use "with cold drinking utensils such as a 12-ounce beverage can."

Almost in tandem, the San Antonio-based Radio Cap Corporation began mass producing their version of koozies for grateful Texans. RCC’s rudimentary, slightly-too-rigid design was an appropriately clunky granddaddy to the flexibility of today’s flimflamming variety. However cumbersome, the product’s novelty and functionality appealed to drinkers, while the miniature-billboard status allowed car dealerships and funeral homes alike to use thousands of people as human advertisements.

Koozie mania was born.

The primary design shift for koozies arrived in the early 1990s, when the majority of producers switched from sturdy, cylindrical hard foam shells to compactable neoprene and other (less challenging) soft foam material. While companies have attempted to experiment with koozies fashioned out of everything from cowhide to crochet, most drinkers would agree that only foam—in all its infinite varieties—truly captures the koozie spirit.

The drink chiller’s structure may be mutable, but the "koozie" name has remained the same, curiously becoming synonymous with a decades-long trademark feud. After Radio Cap Corporation let their trademark on the koozie name lapse in 2001, a legal battle over proper use of the koozie name has flared up time and again over the past 20 years between Norwood (who purchased RCC in 1989) and the online koozie hub Kustom Koozies.

"Trademark litigation ... is often born of pedestrian disputes. Such is the case with this lawsuit," the Indiana district court noted in a 2009 ruling on the issue. "What do you call those spongy things that people wrap around a beverage can or bottle to keep it cool? Some people call them ‘koozies.’ The parties to this lawsuit both do, and as a result they are no strangers to each other or litigation." Today, the all-caps (and some would say, authentic) version of the koozie name is officially owned by pen-and-lighter manufacturer Bic.

Outside of the courtroom, the koozie is one of the few imbibing accoutrements that prides itself on being day drinking specific. It holds a high ranking place in the militia of frat-boy-approved accessories, somewhere between plastic sunglasses from jam band concerts and theme party shirts snipped into bro-friendly tank tops.

Koozies have the capacity to squish along the razor’s edge between completely ubiquitous and deeply personal. On the one hand, there’s a certain nostalgia factor that is innately linked to the koozie, as if memories themselves are absorbed in the sticky condensation of the portable cup holders. Nests of commemorative koozies are stuffed deep in the recess of junk drawer across America, forever reminding their owners of Lollapalooza ’09 or a particularly rowdy wedding in Topeka.

In 2013, a crack team of devoted scientists at the University of Washington endeavored to find out whether or not koozies actually work, or if it’s simply a case of wishful drinking.

... koozies scientifically work to slow the heating up of a canned beverage, primarily by preventing condensation from forming on the outside of the can.

After beginning on a whim ("You can’t write an article ... where the data has come from a setup ... [in] one of the author’s bathrooms," noted professor of atmospheric science and project lead Dale Durran), the project took a serious turn, earning funding from the National Science Foundation and National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Diving deep into the properties of latent heat, the scientists concluded (as part of an article published in Physics Today) that koozies scientifically work to slow the heating up of a canned beverage, primarily by preventing condensation from forming on the outside of the can. (Another fun fact: The spot in the world where a drink would heat up fastest is Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.)

With both the cold, hart scientific facts and nostalgia firmly on its side, there’s something about the koozie that feels distinctly American. Koozies could likely enter today’s Republican primary (#Koozie16) and surge past Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul in the polls, maybe even giving ‘ol Trump a run for his money.

It wouldn’t be any newfangled titanium steel or hoity-toity, NASA-engineered koozie, though that would speak to the hearts and minds of Americans. No, it’s the generic charms of the too-porous, always-loyal foam variety that could likely ascend from product to politics in a few easy moves.

At any rate, the koozie has my vote.

Koozie photo: Shutterstock/Danny E Hooks

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