As craft beer continues to make frothy headway, one on-going debate is whether it's better to package the brew in cans or bottles. (Imagine the tragedy if we ran out of things to debate.) There are several benefits to canning beer, like lower costs and ease of storage and handling. Cans are also more eco-friendly and actually help maintain beer quality. But, then some think beer tastes different out of a can.
See also: - Dallas Beer Week
Regardless of preferences, the problem for small brewers is the expense of canning equipment. Plus, they need more space for the equipment, which also costs money. On the other hand, packaging in either cans or bottles expands brewers' access to market.
"There's a never ending cycle of things the brewery needs, to be honest," says John Reardon of Deep Ellum Brewing Co. (DEBC). "The capital expenditures in this business are incredible and just really never stop."
One of those "capital expenditures" for DEBC recently was a small used bottling line it purchased from a brewery up north. Reardon concedes in a slightly exasperated tone that dealing with that bottling line has been "horrendous."
"There's broken glass absolutely everywhere," Reardon says. "It's a pain to deal with. Our idea has always been to get to canning at some point, we just never really knew when."
Well, now they do.
Earlier this year Reardon and his long-time friend Zack Fickey made a trip to Boston for a beer launch. While there, Reardon read an article about a mobile canning unit and tucked the idea away under his brewer's hat. He pulled it back out after his bottling line got ornery. Basically, instead of setting up a canning machine inside the brewery, a system is loaded onto the back of a truck and can be taken anywhere.
"It's a good option for a smaller brewer that wants to try out packaging but doesn't have the resources for their own set up," Reardon says. "A company called Wild Goose Canning is building the unit and it's being delivered next week. We've got our initial two can designs over at the Ball Corporation, which is another big benefit for us, is having that facility so close, we can just pick up our cans any time."
Technically a separate project from DEBC, Reardon and Fickey's new venture, called TX Canning, will certainly speed the process of getting their beer to market, and hopefully others too.
The way things work at Ball, as Reardon explained, is a large quantity of cans are printed all at once and stored for up to six months. So anytime a brewery is ready to can, TX Canning picks up the cans at Ball Corp., and drives over to the brewery and saddles right up next to the tanks.
"The good thing for a brewer," Reardon says, "is, say they need 400 cases. They call us, we go to the Ball Corporation and get the cans, then we show up with the cans and equipment, and unload it off the truck. It takes about 20 minutes to set up. So, by the end of the day, they've got their cases ready to go to market. It's a per-case cost, so they're only paying for what's actually filled."
Cans or bottles, just getting to the retail shelves is an important feat for any brewer. A mobile unit that can be called up on-demand seems like good way to test the waters. Perhaps we'll soon have more options for buying local beer on local shelves. Cheers!
Next: What John Reardon has learned after one year of brewing in Dallas.
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What have you learned after brewing for one full year in Dallas? I've learned an incredible amount of info, and I continue to learn everyday. Right now we're talking through our distribution, Texas laws, growth, there's a lesson around every corner. I find that lately I have to remind myself that it doesn't need to be as full throttle as we make it, and try to remember the journey is half the fun. I'm trying to get back to having fun with what we're doing. Sometimes it's a little too all-business as we grow at this fast rate.
What have you learned about patience? That's something I could learn a little bit more about. It's hard to say though -- we haven't had too much time to be patient around here. It's been moving a little too fast.
What are your best moments? There've been plenty. A new beer being released to market, kicking it at the end of the day with the staff and realizing the accomplishments of the week. The little victories -- landing a new account. We just had a huge mural dropped off today that Jenna Fredde (see above) painted for us, which is just amazing. When people just let us know they appreciate what we're doing, it's very rewarding.
I realize this looks like a fun, party-all-the-time business. But, it really comes down to a lot of work, a lot of blood sweat and tears. But I'm honored to work with the people I work with and very proud of what we've accomplished in the time we've been around.