The Cheap Beverage Accessory Getting Me Through This Pandemic Summer
Sometime last fall, when having people over for dinner was still a thing that you could do without feeling anxiety about a highly contagious novel coronavirus, I was squeezing too many friends around my dining room table for a Sichuan meal that I was frantically finishing in two woks in my galley kitchen. One of the guests asked for a beer. I handed them a cold Modelo, and pointed to a set of drawers for a koozie to save their fingers from the chilly can. “Wait,” they said. “You have a drawer just for koozies?” And I said no. Because actually, I have two drawers just for koozies.
Koozies, if you’re unfamiliar, are can insulators most commonly made out of neoprene and foam. They go by other names too, all equally awkward: huggies, can insulators, coolers, coolies, cozies, and beer jackets. Apparently, in Australia they’re called “stubby holders,” which I hate. Regardless, you probably recognize them because once you start looking for koozies, they’re everywhere. The most common, cheapest version folds flat for easy storage, but more robust, non-collapsible koozies made of thicker, pool noodle-like foam are available and optimal for floating in a body of water with a beer bobbing close at hand. You can also buy fancy metal ones, like these from cooler status brand Yeti.
In Alabama, where I grew up, koozies are ubiquitous. Most kitchens have a koozie drawer, or a koozie basket above the fridge, or a random pile on the counter. They’re passed out as wedding favors, given out at banks, and printed with all manner of designs and advertisements. I have a koozie from my high school, one from a Dolly Parton concert, and one from my old dentist. I have one from Waffle House, and several salvaged from Mardi Gras parades, where they’re flung by the handful at the crowds lining St. Charles. I have one from a Magic Mike-themed bachelorette party, one from the Piggly Wiggly I grew up near, one from a shop in Coney Island that still sells merch from the 1979 film The Warriors, and at least a half dozen from restaurants I’ve never been to and festivals I have not attended. It’s the rule of collecting anything: once people understand you to have a certain quantity of something it gains a gravity of its own. My koozie drawer seems to always pull yet more koozies into its orbit.
I’ve been collecting koozies since my early twenties, and you can tell which ones have gotten more use than others by how frayed the tops are, and how the foam has worn through in spots. I have a few in regular rotation at any given time, so in addition to my drawers full, they’re also scattered through purses, backpacks, and beach bags. I’ve probably lost as many as I have now. Koozies are about abundance, and generosity. They are there to be shared and passed around. Koozies are not disposable, exactly, but they are something you have to accept not really owning. They are free, or very close to free. They pass through your hands and end up at a friend’s lake house, or a picnic table outside a bar, or left somewhere camping. Sometimes you discover one of your koozies in an unfamiliar location, and the reunification is joyful. Sometimes that koozie was never really meant to be yours. It was just passing through.
Besides which, koozies are just an incredibly useful thing to have around, particularly now, in the summer of COVID-19. Here in Brooklyn, my social outings have all been outdoors and distanced. Bars are open for patio and curbside table service, and restaurants too, but like many New Yorkers, I am not really ready for that. The constant ambulance-siren soundtrack of April has subsided, but the fear of the next wave is close at hand. It feels like we’re all just bracing for impact. And so, despite the heat and humidity, hunkered outdoors in a patch of grass remains the best option. In those conditions, the koozie really has a chance to shine. It’s a simple device to prevent condensation from collecting on your can or bottle, thus keeping the drink cooler longer. It’s also a good insulator for something knocking around in your bag. You can put a ripe peach in it and bring it in your bag with some security that at the end of the journey you won’t simply have sweet mush. It’s extremely portable, cheap, and pocket-sized. It does what insulators do: Makes things a little easier, a little more temperate, and just a bit less difficult to deal with.
Every time I’ve pulled a koozie out of my bag for a roof beer with a book, or cold lemonade and cake with a friend in the park, it’s a reminder that there will be times once again when the koozie’s spirit of abundance will come in handy. Koozies are souvenirs, in the most literal sense of the word: They spark memories. For me, they are keepers of the most vital reminder these days: That someday these endless, awful days will also be a memory. Someday there will again be messy, ill-thought-out dinner parties, spontaneous lake house visits, raucous weddings, and road trips made without worry of infection. Someday my social interactions will be suffused with less, or at least different, anxiety. Until then, at least the drinks will stay cold.