Meet Les MacLaren – a regular shopper at our store and an avid beer can collector with an extraordinary collection of 5,000 cans.
A member of the Australian Beer Can Collectors Association Inc (ABCCA), Les has spent 43 years hunting down his prized cans, which he displays on floor to ceiling shelves in his garage.
We recently caught up with Les to find out about his amazing beer can collection, the friendships he has formed through ABCCA, and the challenges collectors face since the popularity of cans has increased.
How did you get into beer can collecting?
I started 43 years ago – sitting out at the hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching the cricket. At the end of the day there were hundreds of empty cans left around, so I picked up about 10 different cans, popped them into my esky and put them up on my bedroom windowsill at home. It wasn’t until about 20 years later that I found out about the collectors club.
How many beer cans do you currently have in your collection? How do you display them?
I have around 5000 cans – only about half of these are on display, I’ve simply run out of room to display the rest. The walls of the garage are set up with shelving from floor to ceiling and I’m currently working on how to make more shelves with the limited space left. Whilst it’s great finding new cans for the collection – they do take up a lot of room.
What makes a beer can particularly sought-after? Is it the rarity, design etc.?
Rarity is key – particularly with cans from the 60’s and 70’s. Some of our collectors specialise in different breweries so for them it could be finding something they don’t already have from Tooheys for example – not necessarily old or rare. For me, I’ve moved to chasing the Australian craft cans, but I still keep an eye out for “gaps” in my mainstream collection.
How do you go about sourcing new items for your collection? Do you face any challenges?
The ABCCA (Australian Beer Can Collectors Association) members are constantly finding out about new cans across the country and have our webpage updated with the latest releases and information. The Internet is the best source for information – a combination of brewery updates, craft beer Facebook pages and websites, online stores (i.e. ccliquor.com.au) and specialist bottle shops. The main challenges are that many of the craft breweries have a limited run of cans and limited distribution (sometimes only available at the brewery itself). To overcome this, some of us set up trading partners in other states so they can just concentrate on sourcing cans from breweries in their own state – and then trade those with partners in other states.
Is Australia’s beer can collecting community strong? Have you formed friendships through ABCCA?
It’s reasonably strong but we can always do with more members. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are keeping and displaying cans on their home bars and man caves, and are totally unaware there are other mad collectors only a mouse click or 2 away. I have been lucky to be a member of ABCCA for over 25 years and have formed some great friendships with people from all round the country – we share that passion of hunting down an elusive can – the monthly NSW meetings are held all around the state so it’s also great to get away as well.
Are your family and friends supportive of your passion?
Very much so – my wife is always on the lookout for cans for me, and family & friends are always offering to bring cans back from overseas and interstate – and of course my kids are always happy to help me drink a few to get those cans up on the shelf.
What’s your favourite can or piece of breweriana?
I don’t think I have a favourite, but I do remember where I managed to pick up some of my collection or completing gaps in sets – spotting a can I didn’t have on the side of the road outside of Tiboburra, whilst doing over 100kmh, completing some of the sets that I have – it took me over 5 years to complete a set of Powers Rugby League cans, and nearly 10 years to complete the 1977 KB Ashes Cricket set – nowadays it’s satisfying if you can pick up some of the more limited Australian craft cans.
With the rise in ‘Craft Beer’ and the more recent favouritism over cans by craft beer consumers, would you say this is better or worse for the can collecting community?
It’s a good question – from a pure numbers point of view – we have gone from 50 new Australian cans a year – to more than 50 per month – tracking them down remains the hardest part, closely followed by having available storage and space to display. Even with the explosion of craft cans, many collectors are limiting what they collect – i.e., cans from their own state, painted cans only and not paper or sticker labelled – it all comes down to personal preference, access and cost.