History

How the Koozie Came to Be

Hand holding a koozie that says "beauty is in the eye of the beer holder"
The koozie we know and love today was originally meant to be insulated with goose down. Photo via Tim Patterson/Flickr.

Whether you call it a koozie, beer cozy, beer jacket, or drink huggie, the koozie is an extremely recognizable part of the drinks world. Its different forms are as varied as its nicknames: they can be rigid or soft and flexible or even slap onto cans and cups. And they’re everywhere. “Everyone has a favorite koozie,” says Christine Miller, owner of Two Chicks Walking Tours. “At least here in New Orleans, everyone has an area with a bag or a basket with a bunch of them.”

They’re also great marketing tools. Business owners can brand drinkers by giving out tiny, portable billboards to cover their drinks. As Miller found when she surveyed friends, family, and community members, koozies are popular, and people want their koozies to have specific attributes. “They tend to match them with outfits,” she says. “They don’t like if [koozies] show any kind of dirt, and if they’re super cheap, they tend to fall apart.”

Though these problems are familiar to most koozie users, the story behind the drink-carrying device probably isn’t. But like many other aspects of bar history, the koozie’s true origin story is obscured by folklore and myth. Luckily, though, it’s a relatively new invention (by most accounts) and as such is part of the searchable public record.

One such story is that a beta version of the koozie was introduced in Australia in the 70s. There, it was quickly adopted as part of surfer culture. The best part? Whether the origin story is true or not, koozies are known locally as “stubby holders.”

Another widespread tale is that the koozie’s origins date back to the British tradition of knitted tea kettle cozies. Instead of keeping cold out, the koozie keeps it in. Some postulate that even the word “cozy” was manipulated, both in pronunciation and spelling, to make “koozie” sound like “cool.”

Despite the myths surrounding the humble koozie, we do know a few things for sure. The Radio Cap Corporation (RCC) registered a trademark for the name “koozie” in 1980. Just a year later, a woman named Bonnie McGough filed a patent for an “insulated drink cozy” with insulating material sandwiched by outer fabric. She suggested goose down as the insulator.

Luckily, McGough’s vision for the koozie isn’t its modern look. Instead, the RCC produced the rigid cylindrical foam holders that characterized koozies in the 80s. By the early 90s, softer foam and neoprene had largely replaced rigid-walled koozies.

But even this advancement comes with its share of difficulties. “They can be frustrating because they might not be the right size or shape [for your drink],” says Miller. To remedy that problem, someone invented a koozie that works like a slap bracelet to hug your drink – no matter its size.

The koozie’s recent history has been just as interesting. In 2001, RCC let their trademark on the name lapse. Since then, a legal battle has raged intermittently between RCC and web-based koozie maker Kustom Koozies over the proper use of the name “koozie.” To make things even more complicated, lighter and pen company Bic owns the all-caps version of the name.

More recently, scientists have taken a crack at the humble koozie. In 2013, a team at the University of Washington put together an experiment to discover if koozies actually work. Despite the topic’s whimsical beginnings, the study attracted grant funding from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Science Foundation. The resulting article, which was published in Physics Today, concluded that koozies help to prevent canned drinks from warming up by preventing condensation from forming on the can.

No matter how you use (or study) the koozie, one thing is clear. “People do love koozies,” says Miller. “They’re kind of ubiquitous.”

Clair McLafferty is a writer and bartender based in Birmingham, AL. She is the author of The Classic & Craft Cocktail Recipe Book, and collects (and drinks) whisk(e)y for fun.

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