To Can or not to Can?
Over the last year or so there has been a lot of hype and excitement around cans in the craft industry in the UK over the last year or so. I noticed this weekend the discussion even reached the mainstream press as well, with two articles being in the broadsheets.
I have been asked a couple of times why Thornbridge haven’t got round to putting beer in cans yet. Over the last year or so within the company we have discussed the option of canning on numerous occasions. Before making any decisions, I decided to do my research and look at the pros and cons of canning beer. I spoke to numerous breweries in the States who’d been canning craft beer for years and it soon became apparent to me that budget canning lines weren’t the way to go for Thornbridge.
This was a quote from one of the correspondences I had with a well-known craft brewery from the States about a particular small canning line:
‘They have potential to package product well but we found that air driven seamers are not the best way to create a seam. Unfortunately, that’s what you get at that price. As far as oxygen pick up, low numbers are possible, but that is dependent on the operator more than any of those style of machines. The fob, temperature, speed, pressure, flow, etc must all be closely and regularly monitored to assure decent package. If I could do it all over, for our first machine I would get the smallest high quality rotary line I could find and go from there’.
These words spoke volumes to me and I told the other directors in the company that we would be better putting our money where our ethics are and ensuring future investments go towards the best bottling line we could afford, to make sure we can package the beer in a format which gave us the freshest tasting beer possible.
As I have mentioned before, exposure to oxygen after primary fermentation must be kept to a bare minimum. We do everything possible to eliminate oxygen from our processes, particularly during the packaging stage, where oxygen can be introduced easily. Although the can format is being sold as the best way to eliminate oxygen from the beer after packaging, it is during the packaging process itself that the greatest danger lies. I am unconvinced that the canners towards the lower end of the market are capable of sealing the can without potentially picking up detrimental levels of dissolved oxygen.
It would seem that it is possible to produce good beer on a budget canner, but personally I’m not convinced. Although I am sure we could achieve extra sales and the exposure would be great having beer in can, I feel that on the flip side of the coin, customers drinking oxidised beer from a can would do no favours for our reputation.
So why not just sub-contract? Many breweries send their beer to a sub-contractor to be canned, but I do not feel that this is the best way forward. The extra transport involved and the potential for beer to be packaged outside our normal specifications just makes us worry that it will not hit the market in optimal condition.
So, maybe one day in the future we will look into purchasing a decent rotary canning line, but for now I am afraid I have to put the beer first, so forgive us if we stick with the bottle format for the foreseeable future – it hasn’t done us too badly over the years!