Nitrogen Use In The Brewery: The Pour Says It All

By: Gerald Dlubala

You only have to look at the rotating list of available craft beer flavor profiles and styles at your local brew pub to know that Brewmasters are always looking for ways to please their patrons. Adding the use of nitrogen within the craft brewing industry is one of those ways that breweries look to produce a better final product for both their loyal consumers and for the distributors as well.

Nitrogen use is gaining popularity in craft breweries because it can be used as a safeguard against harmful oxygenation of their product that can affect taste, aroma and quality, all the things craft beer enthusiasts really care about. But nitrogen is also used to pressurize the containers and extend the shelf life of packaged beer. When used in conjunction with widgets or nitrogen dosing machinery before capping, it’s also responsible for that unique, cascading pour and velvety mouthfeel that signifies a nitro beer.

“Since the eighties, our liquid nitrogen dosing equipment line has expanded and improved to meet certain needs amongst the brewing industry,” says Jackie Whitney, Technical Support and Application Engineer for Vacuum Barrier Corporation in Woburn, MA, a manufacturer of nitrogen dosing equipment for use in craft breweries. “Nitrogen is used to purge the oxygen of the empty container before filling, but also to purge the oxygen from the headspace of filled containers. Nitrogen is used to pressurize cans of lower carbonated products, helping with packaging stability. And of course, it’s used for nitrogenating beers.”

“Nitrogen can be used before filling or after filling and before capping and seaming. We have our Linerter doser, used to purge empty containers before filling. It doses in a larger quantity to ensure that enough liquid nitrogen is put into the container to completely purge the oxygen out from it, similar to how it’s done for wine bottles. Our other styles of dosers are more precise, limited by line speed and size, and able to dose in smaller and more precise liquid nitrogen drops into filled containers, reducing oxygen in the headspace while pressurizing the container.”

“For small scale breweries,” says Whitney, “Liquid nitrogen is accessible in rented portable Dewars that are generally available locally from gas distributors. For the larger scale breweries requiring greater amounts, it’s generally recommended that the liquid nitrogen be stored in a refillable bulk tank located outside. Depending on the magnitude of the brewery, liquid nitrogen can be efficiently transferred from the supply tank to the doser using a vacuum insulated piping system.”

Whitney says there are no other alternatives to nitrogen. “It is the most economically feasible, inert, cryogenic gas available. It helps extend shelf life while preserving flavor and pressurizing the containers, allowing them to more easily be stacked during packaging and transportation.”

But no use of nitrogen may be more noticeable to the dedicated craft beer drinker than the characteristics it brings to that silky-smooth end product coming out of that tapper.

Whitney says that many brewers are using nitrogen infused beer to create an alternate taste for beer lovers, and because this is a relatively new craft brewing method, they are experimenting with all different kinds of nitrogen-infused beer.

“By dosing with nitrogen, breweries transform their beer into nitro beer, meaning one that has and retains a smooth, creamy head after pouring, either with or without the widget. This benefit would seem to translate across all beer styles should the brewer want to do that. The receiver of a nitro beer will notice a taste and aroma that is much fresher than that of their normal, standard carbonated beer. Nitrogenated beers have an appealing, more attractive cascade upon pouring compared to standard or regular beers, and the nitro style beers will possess a creamier texture and a more evenly distributed flavor, while the normal carbonated beer is less delicate and has a stronger aroma.”

The Nitrogen Movement

“More than just a trend, nitrogen use in the craft brewery is really a movement that’s been continually building and now really coming into its own.”

These are the words of Tyler Jones, Production Manager of Dosing Systems at Chart Industries Inc, headquartered in Ball Ground, GA. He says there are two predominant reasons for this movement.

“One use is to push oxygen out of containers during the brewing process. By containers, we are talking mainly cans for now. There are certain amounts of dissolved oxygen (DO) that we just can’t do anything about,” says Jones. “But we can reduce the total package oxygen (TPO), specifically the headspace oxygen (HO) that is sitting above the beer and trying to get into the product during packaging. If you’re not dosing nitrogen, then your actual parts per billion (ppb) of DO is higher than you initially measured, and that means that you as the brewer, aren’t getting your product out to market in the taste profile that you initially intended.”

“The second reason is nitrogenation of the beer. Many brewers do it in the keg itself. You prefill the keg with gaseous nitrogen, and over time, the beer inside the keg transforms to nitro brew, which is then also pushed through the keg to tap process using only nitrogen. Carbon dioxide is a natural product but slows the nitrogenation process, so most breweries want to pull the carbon dioxide out. Nitrogen filled kegs keep the nitrogen in the beer where it belongs.”

Guinness is, of course, the name most synonymous with nitro brews, and has a patent on their cans featuring that familiar rattling ball. Other cans have a widget installed, which Jones says is about the size of a quarter in diameter and the width of a thumb. The widget contains an orifice with an exit valve and a slit for the in-valve. The brewer puts the beer in, the can is inverted so the liquid just covers the top orifice. As the nitrogen expands, it forces itself into the widget so that when the can is inverted again, the nitrogen is encased within the widget. When the beer is opened, it gets a slight shake or hard pour, charging the system. Nitrogen escapes, invigorating the beer and producing that great cascading pour that accompanies all nitro brews.

But because these cans were expensive and only available if ordered in standard, minimum order quantities, the smaller craft breweries simply couldn’t afford them. That’s when Jones and Chart started their Ditch The Widget program and website, allowing smaller and startup brewers the ability to give their beer a heavy nitrogen dose right on the filling line, immediately before seaming.

“Without giving away too much, it’s all about a pressure situation in the can or bottle. After a short time, the beer is completely nitrogenated, complete with the great taste, the great cascading pour, and the familiar long-lasting, tight head. Just everything. The whole deal,” says Jones. “And better yet, the best results have come when the beer is initially brewed completely flat, without the use of carbon dioxide or nitrogen.”

Dose size will vary due to the beer type as well as the size of can or bottle. One drop of liquid nitrogen expands seven hundred times its volume when going from liquid to gas. That expansion evacuates the oxygen and carbon dioxide that is present while adding pressurization.

Partnering with Left Hand Brewing in Colorado, Chart and Jones have been able to perform intensive nitro testing and help cultivate the nitro industry.

“The Brewmasters help us with testing because they know exactly what they are looking for in the way of head retention, pour and taste. Nitrogen is generally thought to be used with the darker beers, and although that is true, anything can be nitrogen dosed, including IPAs. The main thing is that nitrogen is smaller and less soluble than carbon dioxide, so it creates a creamier mouthfeel for those beers that are already more pleasant than some IPA or hop forward beers. If the beer is actually meant to have a bite to its final taste, then nitro dosing would defeat that purpose.”

Brew Pubs Are Perfect For Sampling

Left Hand Brewing is just one craft brewery that has become a proponent for nitrogen use in the craft beer industry. They continue to offer both nitro and non-nitro options in their milk stouts, allowing a side by side comparison of just how nitrogen dosed beers differ in aroma, taste and appearance. They’ve also been successful with bottling nitro beer. Their bottled Nitro Milk Stout met with wild enthusiasm and great reviews, paving the way for a series of nitro brews that included their Sawtooth Nitro and Wake Up Dead Nitro. By increasing the availability of nitro beers as a to-go product, Left Hand Brewing increases the availability and versatility of craft beer options, while also allowing nitro beer aficionados to be able to take their preferred beer with them away from the pub.

James Cain, co-owner of Vault Brewing Company in Yardley, PA is quick to sing the praises of using nitrogen within his brewery. Vault was the first to package their nitro beers in widgetless cans, opting for inline nitrogenation instead. But Cain also uses nitrogen with some of his traditionally carbonated beers as well.

“Capping our cans using nitrogen is very helpful in removing oxygen from the headspace because of the capacity the nitrogen displaces when transforming from a liquid to gaseous state. It promotes extended shelf life and because of that large amount of displacement, the walls of a beer canned using nitrogen will be noticeably more firm and rigid than their CO2 counterparts. This supports the idea of higher strength cans with better performance and more stacking power. But you have to be mindful that the extra strength is due to increased pressure, so there also is the possibility for more damage. It’s a six-of-one, half a dozen of the other kind of thing.”

“Not many are packaging with nitrogen,” Cain says, “But we feel that it’s a great way for those beer drinkers to be able to take our nitro beers with them for later enjoyment in their homes. They’ve asked if we could do it with our growlers, but it just wouldn’t work, so being able to can the nitro beer is a way to satisfy that customer demand.”

Within his brewpub, Cain says that there are always nitro brew beers on tap, with the choices usually being seasonal and/or session beers. These beers are pushed from keg to tap using a nitrogen system that allows a mixture of seventy-five percent nitrogen to twenty-five percent oxygen ratio.

“It ultimately comes down to personal preference,” says Cain. “Overall, using nitrogen gives a superior, cask-style pour, emphasizing the taste and flavor of the beer. It’s a way to provide a smoother mouthfeel without the fizziness of high carbonation. It takes away the carbonic acid and bite at the end of your drink of beer.”

The Proof Is In The Pour

Nitro beer drinkers notice immediate differences in initial mouthfeel, which plays a huge part in the overall perception of the beer from that point forward. That smoother, creamier, almost dessert-like foam head is all due to the nitrogen immediately forming a glassful of tiny, insoluble bubbles upon pouring.

And that pour is important. With agitation produced from either a mild shake or a fully inverted hard pour, nitrogen is released and those tiny, endless bubbles descend with the signature cascading action that signifies a nitro brew. By the time the container is emptied, those nitrogen bubbles reverse their flow and rise towards the top in a thick, heavy foam head with superior retention, providing the velvety mouthfeel of a luscious whipped dessert. The darker, more intensely flavored stout types of beer tend to better match with the creamier, velvety consistency of nitro brewing, and actually have their flavors amplified when introduced to nitrogen.

The Essence of FILTRATION

By: Tracey L. Kelley

In the classic John Wayne film “The Quiet Man”, Irish lass Mary Kate Danaher asks the town’s local matchmaker, Michaeleen Óge Flynn, if he’d like a little water in his whiskey. “When I drink whiskey,” Flynn puffed out his chest, “I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water.” Yet a wee drop or two of water to a dram of almost any finely-crafted spirit, especially whiskey, will enhance the flavor profile.

Rewinding now, from glass to finishing, finishing to production and raw ingredients awaiting the boiler or still—water flows through every stage. For the majority of distillers, its quality can’t be controlled at the absolute source. Water also has a tendency to, well, grow things. These spoiler organisms often adhere to other ingredients in the batch. Without proper filtration, they cause a host of problems through each stage of product development. 

  Beverage Master Magazine asked James “Jimmy” Fagen, East Coast sales manager for Craft Brew Water, Inc. what distillers need to remember about this essential ingredient.

“Rain, well and surface water is constantly changing throughout the year, and should be looked at by the ‘ranges’ of its make-up,” Fagen said. “These changes affect the look and taste of a distiller’s product and the maintenance of their equipment.” Craft Brew Water, based in Thousand Oaks, California, manufactures customized water filtration systems for distillers and brewers, as well as filtering sets and media.

Fagen suggested that since water consistency minimizes surprises in the final product, determine water quality at a baseline level. “For mineral content, measurement of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels should always be the same when you start. This can be achieved with the use of Reverse Osmosis (RO) treatment, a blending valve—used for brandy—and real time TDS measurement.”

Filtering Differs By Source and Product

Adam Cox is the general manager and head distiller of Iowa Distilling Company in Cumming. During production, he said, some problems can be remedied. Others need proper filtration. “The high-temperature fermentation process can essentially cook off a lot of water impurities and chemicals,” Cox said. “But it’s more difficult to control water minerals or changes in minerals. Knowledge of this determines what type of filtering you need for both the front end and the finishing end.” The distillery’s corn-based product line includes Straight Bourbon, Zone Vodka, Steel Drum Rum and Madikwe, a natural cane spirit.

For every bourbon or whiskey enhanced by trickling water through limestone or a British gin shipped to Iceland for filtering through volcanic rock springs, different producers may have sand and other sediment leeching into their sources when they don’t want them. These are natural interferences. The man-made ones require more filtering diligence.

“City water suppliers, using federal water standards, will add chemicals,” said Fagen. “Producers can achieve chemical removal through carbon filtration systems. Granule-activated carbon will remove such chemicals. Make sure when you select carbon, don’t do it by price: do it by the quality as described by the manufacturer.”

Fagen cautioned that if your water supplier is using chloramines—chlorine and ammonia—for disinfectant, you’ll need catalytic carbon to remove this combination. Penn State Extension service describes catalytic carbon as a more concentrated form of activated carbon that works similarly to an oxidizing filer, absorbing chloramines, hydrogen sulfide, iron, and magnesium in greater quantities.

Carbon filtering is probably one of the most popular natural choices for distilleries. Jayson Barker in the manager of Mile Hi Distilling in Wheatridge, Colorado. The company offers an extensive selection of distillery equipment and supplies, as well as copper and stainless steel moonshine stills. Barker recommended porous activated carbon for a variety of spirits.

“Carbon filtering is similar to the way a carbon water filter works for drinking water: it removes impurities to make drinking water more desirable. Using a back purge steam system can re-activate carbon so it can be used over and over again,” he said. “When making some spirits like vodka, activated carbon filtering is used after the distillation process to create a high purity neutral spirit. Some distilleries also use a small amount of carbon filtering to help make non-neutral spirits more smooth.” Conversely, Barker said, too much carbon filtering in grain- or fruit-based spirits removes the flavor.

Generally, each spirt benefits from particular filtering methods. Here are a few often discussed:

  • Gin: the purity of the ethanol base is hotly contested depending on whether it should be filtered for absolute neutrality, or left with a bit of essence to marry to the botanicals.
  • Liqueurs: here’s when colloidal sediment removal is tricky, as the “goop” simply can’t pass through some filters. Some producers consider mechanical push filtration to be the best option.
  • Moonshine: activated carbon works well to remove toxins, organic materials, and odors. But, as Barker mentioned, too much filtration for this spirit also alters the profile.
  • Sake: after the rice starch converts to sugar, solids have to be removed. This mash isn’t filtered but actually pressed or squeezed through a mesh filter. Then, the liquid passes through a filtration process that includes a fine charcoal powder, which further removes impurities and enhances flavor and color.
  • Scotch whisky: an additional filtering method for removing haze in scotch below 46 percent ABV is chill filtration to stabilize fatty acids, esters and proteins. Isn’t it easier to raise the ABV and avoid chilling altogether so flavor won’t be compromised? Both approaches spark much debate.
  • Tequila: most producers agree that distillation alone can’t meet the impurity removal regulations for this spirit, so carbon filtering is a necessary step.
  • Vodka: as referenced, carbon filter heightens all aspects of this product, but different categories of this spirit are filtered at different speeds depending on the desired result.
  • Whiskey: some producers believe you can use one whiskey sample and create distinctly different profiles simply by altering the filter material, its density, the use or non-use of charcoal and other factors.

Regardless of product, Fagen said, nothing affects it more than the finishing process, or cutting. “Cutting refines the alcohol levels, look and taste of the product. This is where the rubber meets the road. Existing gravity-fed filtration systems limit the type of carbon used for a product and the number of times that product is filtered.”

Barker detailed the cutting process: “First, a producer collects the foreshots and heads and discards them. These first cuts have undesirable compounds that boil off at a lower temperature than alcohol.” He continued. “The next collection is the hearts—the premium spirit cut and the most desired part of the run. Then the tails, which brings over more fusel oils and undesirables. Some of the tails are what helps give spirits character, but too much can give off other flavors and make clear spirits cloudy.”

When Technology Can Help

The process of filtering spirits has come a long way from the days of silt, grass, and animal skins. But the quest to capture the most miniscule of particulate continues, and online forum talk often features distillers comparing microns—that elusive unit of measurement where smaller is better. For example, 50 microns is the width of a human hair. We can’t see anything with the naked eye below 40 microns. A filtering of 30 microns seems acceptable by most producers, but some often tell tales of 10 or less. Since bacteria is approximately two microns, it easy to understand why there’s such a fuss.

“Changes in design and the types of media that we can produce—from string to felt and from high-efficiency media to absolute membranes—means that the end use can capture more, hold more and experience a much more consistent and refined result,” said Robert J. LeConche Jr., president of Shelco Filters.  This nearly 50-year-old company in Middletown, Connecticut specializes in manufacturing filters and cartridges used in a multitude of industries.

Keep in mind that a filter’s micron rating isn’t the only factor to evaluate: be sure to also ask about its nominal or absolute rating, contaminant capacity and efficiency rating percentage. Then, it’s a matter of evaluating your processes and ultimate liquid to consider filter options such as:

  • Bag
  • Cartridge
  • Crossflow
  • Pre-coat, with additives such as diatomaceous earth, cellulose or perlite
  • Sheet or stacked disc cartridges
  • A combination of any of the above

Now, finishing methods are a completely different subject—some producers don’t always consider this stage filtering as much as refining. The rise in RO, which is what Iowa Distilling Company uses for its Zone Vodka, combined with precise filtering makes a difference. “I think many more distilleries are using this,” Cox said. “Depending on your goals for aromas and tastes, you might be changing out filters more often—which you should do anyway—but RO allows for better quality when modifying the finish.” Some distilleries also pass water from the RO system through a deionization (DI) system to improve purity and achieve a pH level of 7.0.

Fagen at Craft Brew Water believes that filtration has and is continuing to evolve the most in its efficient use of water. In turn, he said, this improves a producer’s productivity at acceptable cost levels. He listed many options. “RO system efficiency has greatly reduced the ‘concentrate’ water that contains removed mineral content. Cold RO membranes improve the RO process for cold water regions,” he said. “Anti-scalant systems add longevity to the RO membrane and equipment. UV light treatment kills bacteria very effectively. Programmable carbon filtration systems allow backwashing on your timetable without manual attendance. Scheduled, consistent backwashing minimizes water usage.”

Both Fagen and LeConche stress the importance of asking vendors for customized solutions. It’s hard to spitball capacity needs and specific spirit processes then match them with off-the-shelf machinery. For instance, if the output of a microdistillery averages 50,000 proof gallons a year, plate filter or lenticular filters systems using cartridges might be a cost-effective choice. Housings can be modified as well with expansion. Whereas a larger distillery might require the efficiencies found in filter sheet technology, which often includes sheets built to precise width specifications, and feature multiple grades, low extractable ions or even layered with activated carbon.

Also consider working together on new advances. Craft Brew Water is developing an automated end product filtration system using all types of carbon media, inter-changeable, with multiple filtration cycles and testing stations for quality control, Fagen said. “We’re in the proto-type development stage, and have a Patent Pending status. We anticipate the onsite testing process to begin within the next 30–45 days.”

Just as water plays a key role in each stage of creation, your filtering vendor can as well. “My advice is to make sure you pick a partner who has the experience to work with your system from start-to-finish with a defined end result in mind,” LeConche told Beverage Master Magazine. “Some people consider filtration products to be part of a parody industry, but nothing replaces thorough knowledge when setting up a system.”

Nelson-Jameson and 3M™: Driving the Fight Against Food Allergens

By: Nelson-Jameson

With industry demand calling for new innovations in allergen testing, Nelson-Jameson is proud to offer 3M Allergen Protein Rapid Test Kits.

These kits are a qualitative immunochromatographic assay for rapid in-plant monitoring of specific food allergens, and are designed for accurate detection of processed and unprocessed allergen proteins. With results available in 10 to 12 minutes, these fast, easy tests can be used for clean-in-place (CIP) final rinse water, environmental swab samples, raw ingredients and finished food products. We currently have the following test kits available: Almond, Bovine Total Milk, Cashew, Coconut, Egg White, Fish, Gluten, Hazelnut, Peanut, Pecan, Pistachio, Soy, and Walnut. All test kits include 25 tests per kit.

Nelson-Jameson also offers 3M’s line of Allergen Protein ELISA Test Kits for both processed and unprocessed target allergen proteins. For additional information visit nelsonjameson.com or call us at: 800-826-8302.

Nelson-Jameson has been an integrated supplier for the dairy and food industry since 1947. Product lines include safety & personnel, production & material handling, sanitation & janitorial, processing & flow control, laboratory & QA/QC, and bulk packaging & ingredients. The company is headquartered in Marshfield, Wisconsin, with other locations in Turlock, California; Twin Falls, Idaho; York, Pennsylvania; Amarillo, Texas; and a sales branch in Chicago, Illinois.

Software And Technology Keep Craft Beer Flowing

By: Gerald Dlubala

Better time management, production consistency and organizational excellence are just a few of the promised benefits of adding or updating the technology and software within your craft brewery. While this may not have been in the forefront of your original craft brewing dream, in order to reach your brewing goals, you will want and need to increase efficiency, production and quality by using compiled and organized data to make key business decisions. It’s critical to research and determine what you will need in order to get some of your time back to spend on your first love, that of making great quality craft beer for both your loyal and potential new beer patrons.

Adding Technology To Grow Your Brand

Mike Bianco is the Operations Manager for the Civil Life Brewery in St Louis Missouri, but as is the case in small business, he’s a wearer of many hats, including acting as the liaison between the production, distribution and sales teams.

“Up until a few months ago, our brewery information was recorded and kept on a mix of whiteboards, excel sheets, dropbox documents, google docs, and whatever else was available,” said Bianco.  “All of these mediums had to be put together to decipher whatever information we needed at the time, so researching and investing in a brewery management system that offered system-wide integration was the major focus of our technology investment.”

The Civil Life brewery needed a software system that could help them now and grow with them as they plan to increase production to expand into packaged product offerings. They are growing and need a streamlined and user-friendly product to help them along their way. They chose to go with EKOS, a company that prides themselves on easy-to-use craft business management software.

“We chose EKOS mainly because of their integration and streamlining aspect. But it was also a matter of finding functionality with someone that had extensive experience on the craft beer side of things while being available at our required price point” said Bianco.  “EKOS is visible and used by all employees. Our employees are permitted access to different dashboards depending on what role they fill within our brewery. We’ve had it up, fully functional, and in use for about a month now, and have already noticed much better planning and forecasting capabilities. We deliberately implemented the system in phases over a couple of months so we could make sure it was doing what we wanted and needed it to do before moving on to the next step. This way, we knew the system would function as advertised for our specific situation.”

Although Bianco is very satisfied with the EKOS system, he’s already looking to the future and what can be improved upon with respect to additional software and technology.

“We’ve got the brewing process down within EKOS, but we’re still lacking when it comes to point of sale integration from our tap room into our back office reporting,” he said. “There’s still a disconnect that we’ll look into getting integrated there, and for the most part, we are still a manual brew operation. There is no real brew automation currently, but that’s an area we’ll transform as we continue our growth. Down the road, as production expands further we’ll also look at a good tracking system for our kegs.”

“But one of the best advantages for us in using a package system like EKOS is its ability to integrate seamlessly with our QuickBooks functions, immediately updating and providing in-the-moment reports and brewing process information.”

Additionally, Civil Life is a big proponent of solar energy, using panels to feed into their main system to help power everything from their lights to chillers.

SeamVision Technology Provides Canning Seam Consistency

“Predictive technology absolutely increases canning quality” says Neil Morris, Co-Partner of OneVision Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of SeamVision, a seam inspection system for food and beverage canners and can makers.

“We help quality managers take preventative action before seam related canning faults bring their process to a sudden halt or worse yet, are found while the product is sitting in inventory at the manufacturing site or in a customer’s warehouse.”

SeamVision uses predictive technology to initially gather statistics about the preferred settings on canning equipment and then monitor those settings so they are consistently adhered to throughout the canning process. With SeamVision, you can see the integrity of the can seams in 3 different spots while it is being formed rather than hoping it’s being done right. The system can also detect wear patterns indicating preventative maintenance is needed. It is user-friendly and fits in with your current network environment.

“With SeamVision technology, we’re able to record machine settings and provide a process to alert the manufacturing personnel if those seam settings start to deviate from the baseline numbers, indicating a potential looming problem. The alerts are color based, using traditional red, green and amber notifiers so the responsible person can rectify a potential issue before it causes costly real-time production interruptions. This type of monitoring results in greater overall consistency and increased production uptime.”

Serious can and seam faults are nearly impossible to predict using only periodic manual checks, so SeamVision provides a system of gauges all under software control.

“We are unique in this approach,” says Morris. “Once SeamVision is set up and online, less frequent physical checks are necessary. SeamVision even checks for subtle changes that affect the seam tightness, body-hook connection, cover hook length and seam overlap due to manufacturing changes, dimensional changes, equipment wear over time or undetected interior part failure. All checks are stored for easy review and reference over time.”

Seam Consistency Critical To Quality Canning Process

“SeamVision is truly a process control helper,” says Morris. “Craft brewing is obviously popular, but with wine moving into the canning market as well, seam quality is absolutely critical. The specifications for whatever dimension can you choose to use need to remain consistent to improve shelf life, hold proper carbonation levels and guarantee a quality can tab system. SeamVision empowers breweries to do this consistently, whether on an individual basis or as is becoming more common, within a shared space that houses all of the smaller craft startups that don’t have the amount of upfront capital to do this themselves.”

Morris says “A basic SeamVision system installed will run in the neighborhood of twelve to fourteen thousand dollars, which is really a drop in the bucket to what many have spent getting to the point of starting the canning process. Now, you must make sure that the quality of the can remains consistent and the beer you’re selling is the same beer that you initially intended for the public to drink.”

A typical craft brewer may run one hundred cans per minute while running a canner about thirty hours a week. More established breweries may run as high as twenty-two hundred cans per minute.

“But any reasonable canning volume is a candidate for the SeamVision system,” says Morris.

“The strength of our system is tracking and quality consistency. It’s genuinely about getting predictive, timely information to help be proactive and avoid costly downtime within the craft beer industry.”

Intuitive Process Management Software Lets You Focus On Core Business

Jason Lippa, President and Founder of FIVE x 5 Solutions, (formerly Distillery Solutions), creates total process management solutions for craft brewers and distillers to manage all facets of their brewing or distilling operations.

Brew X 5 is the craft brewing arm of his business and is a complete package software system allowing craft brewers to monitor their entire brewing process from inventory to glass. Brew X 5 includes all of your important data and reports and is easily and readily accessible through phones, tablets, or desktop computer stations with easy to read graphics. It is completely QuickBooks compatible while providing instant access to processes and active batch updates.

“Brew X 5 is very intuitive and user-friendly, so there isn’t a need for time-consuming training or user-related learning windows,” says Lippa. “There really is no big install period. You’re up and running from day one. Brew X 5 is an all-encompassing start to finish program that allows each employee the administrative permission to monitor and access the part of the process they are specifically involved in. We don’t restrict the number of users or devices, so this is a great way to keep every employee involved and informed. Individual personnel have real-time access to the data that is relevant to them and their job function while contributing to the overall brewing process and providing management complete and up to date reports on the back end. No one has to master any programs or confusing navigational procedures.

Brew X 5 handles all functions throughout the brewing process:

  • Operations, including recipe and batch information, vessel volume information, and product streams throughout the process, allowing quality product repetition.
  • Inventory levels with automatic purchase order levels, and information on customer and supplier management.
  • Sales tools to generate forecasts, invoices, fill orders, check available inventory and customer statistics.
  • Production planning by optimizing vessel usage and needed material forecasting.
  • Barrel profiles, blending statistics, finishing notes and inventory. Keg tracking is available by customer or type.

Over time, Brew X 5 provides insights derived specifically from these statistics that help the owner understand and manipulate things to increase efficiency and eliminate single points of failure in the manufacturing process.

“With all the individual uses for the single components of this software, the end result can be pure brewing magic,” says Lippa. “Organizing and analyzing all the data from all departments provides compliance reports, daily production logs and operational reports as well as customized metrics like brew loops while simultaneously tracking quality.”

The Brew X 5 program came about because Lippa saw a need.

“One of the main benefits of our software program is that it solves the problems that any manufacturing company has. Management has so many balls in the air that if anything does fail or break, by the time you find out about it it can be too late, costing time and money. With Brew x 5, you have all this operational information and control under one roof, so to speak. It is literally the heart of the brewery, handling manufacturing data and analysis but also allowing you to pull specific information as needed from an easy to use single source.”

Parent company Five x 5 Solutions started out in the craft spirits industry and has expanded to craft breweries through a controlled growth program. By doing it this way, Lippa believes they have better offerings and interfaces than their competitors. As to the future, Lippa says that they’re just going to listen to the needs of the customer, letting that be their focus.

“Data is king, and we are helping companies collect information and produce meaningful reports that drive key business decisions. That’s the way that we’ve been most successful. We let our customers draw our roadmap, looking at everything up through point of sale integration. Most customers don’t have a clearcut answer as to what they want or need this data to do for them, so we keep things simple to use while providing the most powerful results. By live syncing with QuickBooks, we allow the owner to stay focused on the core of his business.”

Brew X 5 also provides exemplary support, averaging an eleven-and-a-half-minute solution through their completely in-house support team.

“We pick up the phone,” says Lippa. “We believe in this type of support because software and technology used within a manufacturing environment like brewing is truly a partnership.”

Brew X 5 is offered in monthly packages if the customer just wants to test the product, but Lippa believes that with complete technology and support systems like Brew X 5, reciprocal long-term commitments are best for both parties.

“Our main goal is to enable business owners to get and remain educated on how their business is run from the inside out.”

Seed-to-Spirit: Growers and Distillers are Changing the Craft Beverage Market

By: Kimberly Fontenot

Ten years ago, an organic sweet cherry farmer, Brian Tennis, was looking for a new way forward—one that would differentiate him from other farms and would grow, develop and sustain his growing operation. He found what he was looking for in growing hops, and becoming part of the seed-to-spirit movement in the craft beverage market.

“Our farm is right on the 45th Parallel, the sweet spot for growing hops, so it was an easy decision despite never having farmed hops before,” said Tennis.

Tennis knew he needed to find a way to diversify and financially grow. “The immediate benefits to our changes were that it gave us an immediate crop to harvest, instead of waiting five to seven years, we could plant hops and have a crop the same year. It gave us a unique plant to grow for our region, as well as something that was relatively easy to grow and not overtly impacted by climate change,” he said. “The hurdles were the startup costs, the learning curve, equipment needs, and the fact that no one else in the state was growing hops on a commercial scale, so there was very little support or knowledge leveraging. It was also an untested market here in Michigan.”

Tennis is now President of the Michigan Hop Alliance and one of the many growers and distillers leading the craft beverage movement. He has learned a lot about the process along the way, and it was often not easy.

“Idiot tax is not cheap,” he said. “Hops were the first crop we tried to grow on a commercial scale and really had no background with this plant whatsoever. We had to purchase or build everything from the ground up — tractors, sprayers, water wells, a hop picker, as well as a hop dryer and pellet line. All this equipment was expensive and specialized. All this on top of trying to source hop plants and pick which varieties to select. Unfortunately, we purchased plants were supposed to be ‘clean,’ and they were found to be infected with viruses. This really set us back financially and pushed back our timelines. We also had a few business partners, not a good long-term fit. More importantly, the learning curve was steep especially for a first-generation farmer with no background in agriculture. The first several years were like going to school for another degree. Even after 10 years of growing hops, there is still a great deal of knowledge we acquire each season. The learning never stops.”

Farm-to Craft Beverage Market

What was learned and implement successfully by Tennis has become pretty standard for many growers experimenting with or changing in their growing operations. Many consumers are aware of or participate in, the farm-to-table movement every time we go to a local farmer’s market, however, some may not be familiar with the farm-to craft beverage market. However, it is here, it is growing, and it is a boon for hops and grain growers, brewers and distillers. Thanks to the loosening of Prohibition-era laws in many states, the number of craft distillers has grown from 21 in 2000 to 1,835 as of August 2018, according to The Craft Spirits Data Project research initiative.

The whole movement has inspired some growers to implement changes in their operations, making them part of the seed-to-spirit market. They are taking bold new steps and changing the current end user of their corn, wheat and rye crop and beginning to create their own spirits.

Why Isn’t Every Grower Creating Craft Beverages?

Some farmers haven’t jumped on the craft beverage and distilling bandwagon because of time, effort and cost. Growers who make the dive into both growing and distilling learn that while the two businesses work hand-in-hand, there is an abbreviated and harsh learning curve. Researching and implementing state and national requirements for farm distilleries as well as training in proper, legal and successful distilling practices doesn’t come quickly or cheaply — all of this to create a business that may not necessarily be successful. The risk is real.

Yet, the dream endures for many farm distilleries regardless of the steep learning curve or unexpected upfront costs. Seed-to-spirit growers want to create something unique that tells a story about their crop, their business, and their authenticity. What better way to do that than through craft beer or spirits?

Craft Beverage Statistics

The Fort Worth Business News reported in August of 2018 the global craft spirits market was valued at $6.13 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at an impressive compound annual growth rate of 33.4 percent from 2017 to 2025, owing to increasing consumer tastes and preferences towards unconventional and experimental alcoholic beverages.

According to the Brewer’s Association, in 2017, overall beer volume sales were down by one percent, but craft beer sales continued to grow at a rate of five percent by volume and totaled 12.7 percent of the U.S. beer market by volume. As the craft-beverage craze continues to grow today’s market is more competitive than ever. In response, some brewers are beginning to shift gears and are implementing craft distilleries side-by-side with brewing operations.

Benefits of Tourism

The seed-to-spirit movement offers yet another revenue source for growers when they provide visitors with guided tours or samples of craft beverages made with their crops. This source of revenue is considered by some to be the one sure thing farmers can count on year-to-year even when the weather adversely affects their yield. No matter the size of their harvest, tourism keeps them steady and stable until the next growing season.

For craft beverage producers, tourism has benefits for both their business and the communities where they reside. No matter where they are, craft beer and spirits lovers seek out breweries and distilleries to have a taste. For farm distillers and brewers, in particular, tourism can sometimes help farmers withstand the economic pressure that comes from larger competitors. So next time you pass a small grower distilling craft beverages, stop and see if you can sample or purchase. You will be happy with the quality and taste, and what’s more, you have been a part of the unique movement momentously impacting the adult beverage market forever.

Prairie Organic Spirits: Handcrafted in the Heartlands

By: Nan McCreary

In 2008, just as the craft spirits boom was beginning to take off, Prairie Organic Spirits was founded by Phillips Distilling Company to meet the demand from consumers looking for an elevated cocktail experience. Today, the Minnesota distillery has become the leader in certified organic spirits, guided by a commitment to creating a more sustainable company and industry.

According to Kevin Papacek, Prairie Organic Spirits’ Director of Marketing, their goal is “to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible.” The distillery bases their vodkas and gins on single-vintage yellow corn grown on family-owned organic farms. The grain is free from harmful chemicals and GMOs and leads to the smooth, award-winning taste of Prairie Organic Spirits.

Producing this grain often means farming “the hard way,” like the original settlers on the prairie. “Farming without the use of herbicides and pesticides requires more time in the field, as farmers must often weed by hand to cultivate the nutrient-rich soil and organic corn,” Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine. “Even before farmers plant a single seed, they spend three seasons carefully preparing their fields. Once the soil is ready, they plant a 25-foot buffer crop to ensure that chemicals from neighboring farms don’t contaminate the corn.”  To help control weeds, farmers use flamers, which create old-fashioned “prairie fires.”

Since the farmers don’t use pesticides, they rely on native birds and bats to consume the insects. Wildlife plays a vital role in organic farming and the lifecycle of their corn. Pheasants eat weed seeds such as ragweed, smartweed and foxtails, often scratching through ground litter in farm fields. Farmers help sustain the pheasant population by leaving rows of unharvested corn next to native grasslands used as protection from the elements.

It’s not just organic farming that helps explain the quality of Prairie Organic gins and vodkas, it’s also the production process, where the spirits are distilled to taste rather than a prescribed number of times. Production takes place in Princeton, Minnesota, in a custom-build, small-batch copper still that is used solely for certified organic spirits.  “We choose copper stills because they consistently produce the high-quality, great-tasting organic spirits that meet the Prairie Organic standards and that our consumers expect from the brand,” Papacek said. “Our spirits have a distinct and unique taste that our distillers and farmers have worked hard to differentiate. This is partly due to its corn base, lending a subtle sweetness and rich, smooth flavor, and partly due to the work of our Master Distillers.”

Complementing the Master Distillers is an elite, employee-led group called “Guardians of Prairie,” who ensure that each batch of spirits meets exacting standards. “We keep distilling until it tastes just right,” Papacek said.

Prairie Organic produces three spirits, each expressing a unique flavor profile. According to the distillery’s website (www.prairieorganicspirits.com), “Prairie Organic vodka has hints of melon and pear on the nose, is creamy on the palate and bright and smooth at the finish. Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka has a mild cucumber note on the nose, is fresh on the palate and crisp at the finish. It’s pure and refreshing until the last sip. Prairie Organic Gin has bursts of herbs, sage, juniper and exotic spices that complement a dry and refreshing taste with a long, delicate finish. It’s smooth from the ground up and easy going down.”

After distillation, Prairie Organic returns the leftover grains to local farmers for use as animal feed—part of the company’s commitment to One Team G.R.E.E.N (Growing Responsibly, Ethically & Environmentally Now), which works to increase corporate sustainability practices such as reducing electrical usage; establishing better water sources; and promoting recycling within its facilities. Prairie Organic is also a partner of the Organic Trade Association, the only trade association exclusively dedicated to helping and protecting organic standards and organic trade.

In recognition of its green initiatives, in 2018 Prairie Organics was named the Best Craft Vodka Distillery in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.” The publication, a trusted source for travel, food and beverage advice, honored not just Prairie Organic’s commitment to organic ingredients and sustainable practices, but also its “unmatched distilling process that leads to Prairie Organic’s award-winning taste.” Other awards include a two-time Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Best New Vodka by Food & Wine in 2009; a Gold Medal for its gin in the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a Gold Medal in the International Prestige (SIPS) competition; and a Platinum Medal for its cucumber vodka in the 2013 SIPS event.

As Prairie Organic looks to the future, the distillery will continue to focus on promoting organics and sustainability. “We are very proud to stand by our partnership with the OTA to support their mission to advance organics,” Papacek said. “It’s important for us to take a more active role in the organic space, and we will continue to ramp up our participation in 2019.”

Papacek told Beverage Master Magazine that Prairie Organic Spirits is always looking for new ways to meet consumer desire for refreshing spirits with unique profiles. Those interested in mixology may want to visit the company’s website, which features an entire page dedicated to cocktail recipes. “When choosing organic, you are choosing a better spirit,” Papacek explained. “In turn, this means a better cocktail, too. Beyond a spirit that is free from herbicides, pesticides, gluten and GMOs, each expression brings a smooth, balanced taste to any cocktail. Some of our favorites include the Grapefruit Negroni made with Prairie Organic Gin, and the Jalapeño Cucumber Mule made with Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka.”

Ultimately, the mission for Prairie Organic Spirits is the same one stated when the company was founded in 2008: to handcraft organic, world-class spirits using the fewest natural resources possible. “Our strong relationships with family farmers, their commitment to the hard work of growing organic, and our Guardians of Prairie who distill each batch to taste, are all factors that have helped Prairie Organic Spirits become the number one certified organic spirit brand,” Papacek said. “Creating great-tasting vodkas and gin, while continuing our commitment to the organic industry and sustainability, will always be our top priority.”

Prairie Organic Spirits are offered in liquor store retailers nationwide. Find Prairie Organic near you through the locator at www.prairieorganicspirits.com/prairie-finder/

The Careful Craft Of Brewery Insurance: Getting the right insurance for a craft brewery business is a combination of peace of mind and great business sense

By: James Sanborn, The Insurance Beer Guy

Opening a craft brewery is a dream many people have turned into a reality. Getting to do all the fun stuff like branding new brews, using all the shiny new equipment, and networking with those who share the same passion. But then there are all the other, not-so-fun tasks that need juggling, like maintaining property and equipment, getting licenses, fitting out the brewery, ordering supplies and hiring staff. Only after wading through all this can a brewery finally get to the reason for it all: making great beer to be proud of.

Keeping motivations firmly in sight and visions on track is important, but so is being realistic about the potential risks business owners face. One bad batch. One slip and fall. One severe workplace injury. All of a sudden, a claim has occurred causing disruption, an interruption in the brewery’s operation, or even worse, there’s no coverage under any of the insurance policies in effect. There’s lost time, lost revenue needed to fuel the brewery operations, and — depending upon the nature of the claim — diminished customer confidence.

Easing the blow when any of this happens is simple: have the right insurance in place. The right coverages that are crafted to the needs of a specialized industry that cover a broad range of exposures.

“It is important to choose an insurance agent that has worked with many different breweries” says Colleen Croteau of Maine Beer Company.  “James and the staff at GHM Craft provide exemplary customer service and a high level of industry knowledge.  Maine Beer Company relies on GHM for our comprehensive business insurance needs, state compliance bonds, and general questions related to our employees, a recent expansion project, and routine business operations.  Their experience in the brewing industry is evident in the knowledge and recommendations they provide.”  Selecting an agent who understands the uniqueness and complexities of brewery operations and who can identify and fix coverage gaps is essential  – it is important to understand that fixing coverage gaps is not necessarily reducing risk; instead, it is transferring risk to the insurer and away from the brewery.

This article will run through the most common brewery insurance gaps, explain how different types and levels of insurance can protect a business, and show how important it is to get the right insurance.

Insuring The Prized Possession: Beer

There are lots of upsetting things in the world, but for a brewery, a ruined or bad batch of beer – or worse, batches – is right up there. It can hit a pocketbook hard. Inventory will need to be replenished by brewing more and, naturally, bad beer can’t be sold so there won’t be any revenue coming in.

In this scenario, you need the right coverage, which can protect against contamination, spoilage, and tank leakage. Understanding how beer is insured will help determine proper limits and make sure everyone is on the same page if something goes wrong.

Keeping The Doors Open After A Claim Happens

When a loss to property happens, it is important to have the right coverage to help keep brewery doors open. Having a revenue stream, even if production is halted, is critical. Say, for example, a brewery closes unexpectedly due to a fire and production is shut down for weeks or months. Revenue ceases or significantly reduces. There will be no beer for customers today. What happens next could be a make or break situation.

While things are being repaired or rebuilt, breweries will need coverage that provides a continued flow of revenue to be able to pay key employees, cover overhead, debt service, and other ongoing operational expenses that will continue even though revenue from beer sales cease. And having coverage for extra expenses like temporary offices, warehousing, and other expenses a brewery will incur while rebuilding its facility is essential. There are coverages breweries can purchase to cover these exposures. If a brewery already has these coverages, limits should be reviewed, at least annually, to keep up with growing sales. Failing to do this means the level of coverage originally purchased may be outdated as the brewery has grown and expanded.

Understanding How Property Is Defined

One of the biggest assets in a brewery is where the magic happens: the property of a brewery (building, improvements, brewing equipment, etc). So, it needs to be insured correctly. Problems may arise because all property insurance policies define business property differently than the brewery owner, his or her contractors or accountant may define it.

Understanding the definition of what constitutes a building, as defined in an insurance policy, is critical. The definition of brewing equipment is also critical. If space is leased, understanding the definition of tenant fit-up is critical too. When writing a policy, it is important to have an agent who will work as part of the team to properly classify property.

Correctly classifying brewery property means a) getting the right level of insurance in each category, b) potentially saving money since insurance rates on the building can be lower than rates on other types of  property and equipment, and c) properly classifying property increases the chances a claim will be settled fairly and satisfactorily.

The Complexities of Liability Coverage

Getting into the fine details of liability insurance is like individually counting every grain of barley put into making beer – there’s a lot to it. For broader liability coverage, having the help of an experienced brewery agent who can tailor the policy for a brewery’s specific operations can make a big difference. As an example, anyone who has a tap room or attends brewfests needs to pay attention to his or her liability coverage.

Opening the doors of a tap room to the public is a great source of revenue. However, breweries with tap rooms have more risk. Unfortunately, customers occasionally have a slip, trip or fall. And then there’s the person who visits a brewery at the end of a pub crawl for one last beer. He leaves and get into an accident on his way home and hurts himself and others. Will this brewery have the right coverage, and enough coverage, for these exposures?

Another tricky exposure to navigate is insurance for events and brewfests. It’s great exposure for any brewery but how is the insurance impacted? Event organizers routinely ask to be named as ‘additional insured’ on general liability insurance and, possibly, liquor liability. Typically someone from the brewery contacts the insurance agent to request a certificate of insurance and off it goes. What this now means is that the brewery’s general liability policy will be sharing its limit with the event organizer – and others who may be asked to be added to the policy – should a claim be made. In this scenario, imagine someone trips and gets hurt at the brewfest and it’s the brewery’s fault!

This person then sues the brewery and the event organizers. Again, since the event organizers are an ‘additional insured’ on the policy, the brewery is now sharing its limit with them, which means there may be less coverage to protect the brewery. Now, imagine if the brewery is asked to add the city/town, license holder, or others to its policy and everyone gets sued. Now the brewery’s limit may be shared by multiple parties. Where does that leave the brewery?  A brewery insurance expert can offer solutions to this concerning situation.

Correctly Classifying A Liability Policy Matters

Different aspects of a brewery need to be classified differently, and correctly. These are called ‘liability classifications.’ Similar to property, brewery owners need to understand how liability classifications apply to the business and make sure sales are assigned correctly. These classifications need to be kept up to date as the brewery evolves and grows.

To give an example, the liability classification for beer sold in bottles is rated differently than beer sold in cans, and kegged beer is different again. Merchandise sales have a separate class too. Do brewery owners want to pay the higher rate on the sale of a t-shirt as they would for the sale of a beer? Probably not! Most breweries have four or five different liability classifications, but there could be more, and if there is a missing classification, coverage could be in question should a liability claim occur!

When policies are classified incorrectly, issues surface when an insurance company audits the policy. Because sales are estimated at the beginning of the policy term, if the final sales end up higher at the end of the policy term, the brewery will get a bill it did not budget for. And if sales are incorrectly classified, the audit could cost the brewery even more.

Making sure liability classifications are correct and up-to-date is important, something that is easily done with the help of a craft beer insurance specialist.

Navigating Employee Related Insurance

Employees are one of the greatest assets of any business, but they can also be one of the biggest exposures to every business:

Workers’ Compensation – Protecting a brewery and its employees for workplace injuries means getting workers’ compensation insurance. But like liability coverage, there are different classifications for the different jobs and roles in every business. Getting this right ensures there won’t be any surprises with a big audit, and that employees will be covered if they get hurt on the job. Another important note about workers’ compensation, if there are family or friends who volunteer at the brewery, there may not be coverage for this exposure.

  Employment Practices Liability – Employees bring other exposures to businesses such as claims related to harassment, discrimination, salary disputes, or wrongful termination. Neither general liability nor workers’ compensation policies cover these exposures. An experienced brewery insurance agent can give advice and information needed to make well informed decisions on handling these exposures.

Navigating Vehicle Insurance

As a small brewery, having a delivery van may be a ways off. For larger breweries, using a distributor means someone else is delivering brew. In both cases it could mean that a brewery does not own any vehicles, but there could still be auto related exposures the business may be subjected to.

For example, many brewers use personal vehicles to deliver beer, run to the bank or commute to events. These are all business journeys. If there’s an accident while doing official beer business, anyone injured as a result can bring a suit against the owner of the vehicle and the brewery. This is because the vehicle was operating on behalf of the brewery at the time. Without the right type of auto insurance, the vehicle owner and/or the brewery may not be covered.

So even if the brewery doesn’t own a van, truck or car, it could be exposed when using other people’s vehicles for company business. It’s worth discussing this exposure with an agent who has expertise with insuring breweries.

The Added Extras

These areas of insurance are just the froth on the pint. When it comes to insuring a craft brewery there are other potential gaps:

  • Flood damage
  • Pollution liability
  • Data protection and cyber security
  • Employee benefits
  • Theft — both physical & of intellectual property.

And Let’s Not Forget A Non-Insurance Exposure … Human Resources

As if there aren’t already enough exposures facing brewery owners but the importance of solid HR protocols are just as important and should never be overlooked. Things like properly completed I-9 forms, ADA compliant job applications and job descriptions, and a properly written personnel manual are just a few of the priorities when it comes to HR compliance.

All of this may feel overwhelming but building the right team of advisors, including an insurance agent who has expertise with insuring breweries, can make the process much less complicated so at the end of the day, after a couple cold brews, brewery owners can go to bed feeling comfortable that should something bad happen at the brewery the right insurance is in place to put the pieces back together and get back to brewing great beer. Cheers!

How to Choose the Right Packaging Machine for Your Brewery

By: Alyssa Ochs

©Mitch Wojnarowicz Photographer
Schneider Packaging Equipment Co in Brewerton NY for ABC Creative group, Schneider Packaging Equipment Co and OEM Magazine


Craft beverage consumers are often quick to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a beer by its packaging. The quality of beer comes first and foremost, but how a beer looks on retail shelves can also drive or sink a brewery’s profits. Packaging machines are useful to breweries for many reasons, including efficiently and attractively packaging beer and cans in cartons. Depending on the size of a brewery’s operations and its goals, these machines range from small hand machines to huge mass production models.

Uses of Brewery Packaging Equipment

These days, very few breweries are packaging their products by hand. Manual processing isn’t fast enough to keep up with demand, but unlike mechanization in the wine industry, there isn’t a strong stigma regarding breweries using machines.

For breweries, packaging equipment comes in the form of case packers and uncasers, can cartoners, case erectors and partition inserters. Innovative companies have developed robotic case packers to pack products into cases and trays, as well as multi-lane diverters to configure cans in the desired format for multi-packs. It may save time and labor if breweries use cartoners that convey, collate, and package cans into multi-pack cartons that are built and glue-sealed.

Meanwhile, other packaging machines work as case and carton sealers, stretch and shrink wrappers, and label applicators. Wrap-around tray packers are commonly used for beer bottles and cans, tray-formers are used for rollover locking, and open-top glue trays are used for 24-count trays of bottles or cans. Large brewery operations typically rely on fully integrated systems that include many of these features including product conveyors, uncasing, single-filling conveyors, lane dividers, dividing wheels, star wheels and sealing equipment.

Benefits of Packing Machines for Breweries

In the early stages of operations or for small and niche breweries, manual packaging may be the preferred operational method, or at least a good starting point. Packaging bottles and cans manually can serve as a preliminary method before growing and saving up for a more automated system. Temporary and transitional packaging services are available for breweries looking to outsource this type of work. However, having your own packaging line typically saves money in the long run and gives brewers greater control over their products.

Packaging machines provide breweries with speed, consistency and efficiency on their packing line, saving employees time and the brewery money. Packaging machines also help a brewery reduce packaging costs, ensure a more consistent appearance, and promote good hygiene to prevent beer contamination. Consistent, well-placed packaging can reinforce and strengthen a brewery’s particular brand and help establish brand recognition and loyalty among consumers.

Top Packaging Machines in the Industry

Packaging machines are used in a wide variety of industries, including food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, industrial products, and non-food consumer goods. In a market with so many choices, some companies now cater to the highly specific needs of breweries.

Based in Brewerton, New York, Schneider Packaging provides case and tray packaging, case sealing, palletizing, and complete end-of-line solution services for its customers. For the beverage industry, Schneider’s gable top packing solution is the stand-out solution designed to run at speeds matching the fastest filling systems. Meanwhile, Schneider incorporates FANUC robotics to create flexible palletizing solutions to meet facility and production requirements. The latest innovations used include ProAdjust technology to increase uptime, patent-pending Intelligent Illumination to maintain case packers, and the proprietary OptiStak software to optimize and simplify pallet generation. Other industries Schneider serves are dairy, food, industrial/chemical/household, paper, personal care/cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.

Douglas Machine Inc., a packaging solutions company based in Alexandria, Minnesota, specializes in high-quality automated packaging solutions for paperboard, corrugated and shrink-film. Douglas is a 100 percent employee-owned company that has installed more than 9,000 machines in at least 30 countries.

“Douglas provides paperboard horizontal cartoning, RSC, and wrap-around case-packing and tray, shrink, pad/film and film only packaging machinery for the brewery industry at a variety of line speeds and configurations,” said Brenda Larson, Marketing Communications Manager at Douglas Machine.

Meanwhile, in Eugene, Oregon, PakTech is a full-service manufacturing company that delivers environmentally sustainable packaging solutions to the craft beer industry.

“Our handles are simple to grab, carry, and remove your product using a 100 percent recycled handle,” PakTech Sales Manager, Keenan Hoar, told Beverage Master Magazine. “PakTech’s minimalistic design and extensive color options highlight your brand and eliminate the need for obscuring artwork with other types of packaging.”

Hoar also said PakTech offers automated application versatility for flexible production requirements.

“You can apply the handles by hand if you’re a startup or have a limited volume requirement,” he said, “or you can utilize their automated applicators ranging in speed from 120 cans per minute to over 1,500 cans per minute if you have a higher speed operation.”

 Accutek Packaging Equipment Companies, Inc. is headquartered in Vista, California but has locations in Irving, Texas and Fort Myers, Florida as well. One of the largest privately-held packaging machinery manufacturers in the U.S., Accutek is a leading manufacturer and developer of complete turnkey packaging solutions. It offers consumers everything from filling to capping machines, conveyors, labeling and sleeving machines, and complete packaging systems.

Vice President Drake Chocholek told Beverage Master Magazine that Accutek often helps start-up companies make the best decisions for their operations. By partnering with a company experienced in this field, brewery owners can better assess whether potential packaging machines are easy to maintain, clean, adjust and upgrade.

“For example, a lot of new producers don’t know there are different grades of quality for glass bottles, or they may not know about bottle washers or rinsers used for cleaning containers before filling,” Chocholek said.

To take this a step further, Chocholek told us about the essential checklist his company uses to help new customers understand their full scope of operations and to make packaging simpler and more affordable.

“After we find out the product and container sizes, we ask them what their budget is, how fast they want the machinery to go, and if they’re in the market for more than one piece of machinery,” he said.

What Breweries are Using and Why

Aaron Williams of Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia told Beverage Master Magazine his brewery specializes in brewing balanced beers for weeknights that pair well with food. Monday Night Brewing opened up its second facility, The Garage, in September 2017 to feature its barrel-aged, sour, and experimental beers. This addition came with an upgrade in equipment.

“We recently upgraded to a 24/4 CFT canning line that we are running at about 250 cans per minute,” Williams said. “We use hi-cone rings packed into trays because it uses the least amount of packaging.”

Meanwhile in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Marble Brewery’s president and brewmaster, Ted Rice, told us about the packaging system that his team currently uses.

“We use a 12-head CFT for canning,” Rice said. “From the CFT, the 12-ounce cans run to a Switchback cartoner for six or 12 packs. The cans can also run to an American Canning Machine PakTech applicator.”

However, finding the best options for machines that carton beer bottles and cans seem to be more of a challenge for breweries.

“Right now, we don’t do any bulk beers in cartons but are actively looking at machines to handle this in a more automated system,” Williams of Monday Night Brewing said. “There are many machines, but it doesn’t seem there is a clear winner based on conversations with other breweries. We currently hand-package our limited sampler packs.”

Douglas Machine may have the solution, however, since they offer a variety of cartoning machinery models that fit a wide range of canning and bottling line speeds and pack configurations.

“For lower speed lines, the intermittent motion Vantra offers an unparalleled speed of 40 plus cartons per minute with range capabilities offering of four to 24 count flexibility,” Larson said. “For higher speed lines, Douglas offers the Spectrum in many models for mid-high-speed lines with speeds up to 250 cartons per minute. The Vantra and Spectrum Center Select offer flexibility to run different diameter and height cans, while the cost-effective Spectrum Center Select offers mid-high-speed capability on a single can diameter capability at a very cost-effective price.”

How to Choose the Right Packaging System

As with every decision made in a brewery, owners must make considerations before investing in a packaging system. Short-term and long-term costs, ease of ongoing maintenance, opportunities for customizable design, integration with existing bottle and can filling systems, as well as choosing the correct machine size are only a handful of things to analyze before purchasing.

Breweries can also reduce their carbon footprint and sustain more eco-friendly operations if they choose packaging products made from 100 percent recycled materials.

“Our products provide an end market for recycled HDPE, helping the economy and environment by providing jobs and keeping plastics out of the landfills and oceans while providing a second life for recycled HDPE plastic,” said Gary Panknin, PakTech’s Sustainability Officer. “Our handle recycling program also provides the opportunity for breweries to participate in keeping our products in the recycling stream and out of the waste stream.”

According to Panknin, 102,592,428 milk jugs were kept out of landfills and repurposed into PakTech handles in 2018, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “In total, we have diverted 338,267,223 milk jugs from entering the waste stream, kept 20,973 tons of plastic out of the landfills and oceans, and saved 17.90-acre feet of land from being used as landfills for waste,” he said.

PakTech’s system isn’t merely a sustainability badge of honor, however. “The PakTech applicator makes our line far more efficient, and our operators do not experience wrist fatigue from manually applying the PakTech,” said Rice of Marble Brewery. “Having the Switchback cartoner allows our brands to have a clean billboard on the shelves. Using the PakTech allows us to run smaller volumes of seasonals in shrink sleeve cans without designing a carton with its associated costs and minimums.”

Williams of Monday Night Brewing suggests brewers ensure that any company they partner with for packing is credible and trustworthy.”I think the key is to really do your homework and ask around,” he said. “Find out who uses the equipment you’re interested in, what the manufacturer support is like, and if the manufacturer really will stand behind it for the long term. I’ve talked to many breweries that got a great up-front price on their equipment only to find the supplier didn’t really stand behind it.”

With this in mind, Mike Brewster of Schneider Packaging Equipment advises breweries “to do their due diligence on what they foresee their operation looking like in the future. Today, more than ever, consumer trends in the marketplace are changing at a rapid pace. With that, it is critical to align with a manufacturer who offers flexible and scalable solutions to assist you as your operation encounters changes.”

Concerning functionality, Hoar of PakTech said that his team looks at the fill rate when helping a brewery choose the right application for its operations. “It is extremely easy to manually apply PakTech carriers, yet the feasibility of doing so is all dependent on volume,” he said. “It is necessary to look at the cost of utilizing employees to apply the handle against the return on investment of our automated solutions.”

Hoar emphasizes the importance of packaging presentation as well because “by focusing on originality and creative expression, breweries have turned artwork into brand identity.” He also points out the need to know your brewery’s customers and consider portability and sustainability when choosing packaging products because many customers care about these things.

“We understand that many customers have a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ mentality, and we need to support the idea of a circular economy in any capacity,” Hoar said.

Finally, Larson of Douglas Machine recommends that breweries consider future packing patterns and configurations when specifying packaging systems for canning and bottling lines.

“Too often, brewers will select machinery based upon their immediate pack patterns or speeds, therefore buying a machine that cannot handle future pack patterns and speeds due to a lack of flexibility in some machinery offerings,” Larson said. “Additionally, the robustness of machinery is critical as brewers grow their operation and volumes increase to the point they need to add production shifts. It is imperative to consider the design and build design to ensure that a packaging system they purchase is robust enough to run multiple shifts, seven days per week. Initial low costs are long forgotten when experiencing poor or inconsistent performance.”

Customization Fosters Innovation: Choosing the Best Brewing Tanks

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Head Brewer Joe Kesteloot of Peace Tree Brewing Co. in its Des Moines, Iowa-based innovation brewery. Photo courtesy of Peace Tree Brewing Co.

The long game of brewing isn’t always obvious in the glass. Some producers spend up to two years evaluating what to brew and what equipment will craft the best product. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but for brewers eager to get started or respond to an expansion demand, it’s critical to have a long-term mindset to produce creatively with fiscal responsibility.

When choosing tanks, especially fermentation tanks, there are numerous questions to answer before snapping up a standard model and placing it in the rack. The equipment in the brewhouse reflects as much about your approach as the end result: attention to detail and processes, ease of production and quality standards.

Patrick Mears is the sales and marketing manager for Marks Design and Metal Works, operating in Vancouver, Washington. Since 2008, Marks Design has specialized in designing custom stainless steel fermenters to brewers’ unique specifications but also fabricates brite tanks, cider tanks and other stainless steel vessels. Mears told Beverage Master Magazine the brewer’s personality, and approach helps inform his company to meet your needs.

“We’ve happily helped many groups who didn’t have a clue what they needed other than a produced volume and a budget. However, our expertise can be more useful if you’ve had a chance hammer out your vibe,” Mears said. “I know that sounds crazy, but it tells us a lot! Are you nerdy about beer and want extreme control over every aspect of the process and log all the data to look for trends? Are you super laid back and simply want to provide your neighborhood with an alternative to Applebee’s? Do you want to be innovative, or are you looking to perfectly reproduce old world beers?  Your brewhouse is an extension of you.”

For new producers, knowing what’s needed beforehand can be difficult. Evaluating potential tank requirements by nebulous considerations of volume, beverage, processes and other factors sometimes makes the choice more challenging.

  Joe Kesteloot is the head brewer at Peace Tree Brewing, Co. based in Knoxville, Iowa. Peace Tree, established in 2010, now has three taprooms in Iowa and an extended retail presence. They produced approximately 5,500 barrels in 2018. Kesteloot agreed the decision is tough, especially when “you don’t know what your flagship beer(s) may be yet,” but offered particular sources of insight. “It helps to get out in your market and talk to your potential customers, and weigh that information with your strengths. If you have a distributor, you ask what the market needs are. You can also look at the current market trends, but those trends are always evolving.”

Brewers should consider tank choices and sizes by determining, “some multiple of the brewhouse size,” said Bryan Boynton, Ph.D., brewer for Snake River Brewing, a brewery and pub located in Jackson, Wyoming. Established in 1994, Snake River is the state’s oldest brewery, and they now sell their beer throughout the U.S. The company produces an average of 8,000 barrels annually. “A 15 barrel brewhouse would lead to 30 or 60 barrel fermenters, bright tanks and serving tanks.” He suggested, “top manway tanks are ideal for all brewing styles, and especially important for ease of dry hopping; and tanks with racking arms that can rotate in the tank are ideal again for all styles, allowing for ease of transfer and filtering.”

Another consideration that factors into tank selection is the potential for multi-purpose use. William Stacy is the managing director of THIELMANN, a European company with U.S. headquarters in Houston. THIELMANN has produced containers for all types of products for more than 275 years, now with a particular focus on aseptic stainless steel tanks and kegs. In his brewery visits, Stacy said he’s continually impressed with the way producers ask double-duty of the company’s fermenters to maximize their investments.

“Some popular applications for our fermenter include brite tank, carbonation vessel and also a yeast propagation vessel. Large breweries use it for running small batches and test samples, and some even as a serving tank,” Stacy said. “This versatility and competitive price allow for the breweries to afford accessories and customization for the applications they require.”

Kesteloot sometimes takes this approach in the brewhouse. “One of my small-scale tanks doubles as a fermenter and a brite tank. However, I always transfer from fermenter to brite: I don’t ferment in it and leave it in there as brited beer. That tank rotates as one or the other function,” he said. “With most of my beers, I like to make sure they are off as much yeast and sediment as possible before serving or especially packaging.”

“I personally believe using fermenters as unitanks provides the most flexibility,” Mears said. He suggested buying the same amount of tanks as if you were pairing with brites, “but all the tanks would be conical fermenters. This way, your production doesn’t have to slow down because one of your brites are still full—you can just flip the fermenter to brite mode.”

While Boynton believes tanks can be multi-purpose in some instances, he offered a word of caution: “A fermentation tank doubling as a serving tank only works for certain styles of beer,” he said. “Most styles don’t allow for this combination. The removal of old yeast, dry hops and sedimentation that will push through to a consumer usually needs to be avoided.”

Stacy added that some producers intending to diversify their product lines often shop for tanks that can provide the most versatility. “Similar to root beer, sparkling or bubbling water is another offering brewers are moving into—filtering the water and just adding C02 to the tank prior to canning or bottling,” he said. “This is why we encourage brewers to think ahead about tank use and talk with their vendor about what type of kit specifications to accommodate other needs.”

Peace Tree Brewing Co. also crafts root beer, and often uses existing tanks for the process—but carefully. “We have designated hoses, carbonation stones and filler parts for root beer only. Many of those flavors can carry over to other brews, so we keep those pieces of equipment completely separate,” he said. “Even a mixing tank other than our brew system is used for root beer ingredients. Any tank used for root beer goes through a rigorous cleaning to remove any residue. This also applies to any sour beer we make with wild yeast.”

“If I Knew Then What I Know Now….”

The camaraderie of the brewing industry means the portal to quality information is always open. We requested our experts provide candid insight into tank, fitting and equipment decisions, and how they influence processes.

Boynton of Snake River Brewing stressed the significance of many factors. “Pressure Relief Valves (PRV) are very important for safety. If possible, buy tanks that are larger than expected brews to allow for a vigorous fermentation and not clog PRVs—which can lead to an explosion with grave consequences,” he said.

“Also, temperature probes that control the fermentation temperature need to be placed where one brew from the brewhouse is within its contact. If the first 15 bbl brew goes into the 60 bbl fermenter and doesn’t reach a temperature probe to turn on the cooling system, you have an uncontrolled fermentation,” Boynton said. “Finally, ease of cleaning without shadows, which are areas that the clean-in-place system doesn’t connect with well; and multiple zone cooling controls are the most important.

When asked what he wouldn’t do again, he replied: “No side manway tanks would have been purchased, and there was no need for conditioning tanks.”

Kesteloot of Peace Tree Brewing Co. seconded Boynton’s reference to temperature probes. “Probe location in fermenters and brite tanks are important. If you’re brewing multiple brews in a single fermenter, make sure the temperature probe is able to read the first brew, or maybe add multiple probes,” he said.

He also explained why tank shape and cooling jackets might matter to your processes. “We look at height-to-width ratios and cone pitch. Yeast can react differently in certain shape vessels. The right cone angle is necessary to collect healthy yeast,” Kesteloot said. “Even the way the cooling jackets are spaced or separated can help with certain applications. If you’re packaging from a brite tank and unable to finish the tank, the cooling jackets need to be located in the right spot to keep beer cold until packaging can resume.”

He added that learning how to accommodate Peace Tree’s expansion pointed to one crucial detail: “Anticipating the amount of cold storage we needed was a big challenge. It seems like we could always use more. Maximize the efficiencies in your processes as much as possible, so you have more wiggle room to be flexible later.”

Manufacturing experts Mears from Marks Design and Stacy from THIELMANN highlighted a fundamental but critical factor: bad tank quality reduces output and increases contamination.

“We offer field services in addition to tanks and systems, and have spent many field hours fixing tanks from other manufacturers that took shortcuts during fabrication or used low-quality material,” Mears said. “Within the past year, we fixed four 240 bbl fermenters at a single location! The tank manufacturer took shortcuts during fabrication, causing cracked welds on the inside of the tank within just a few years of purchase. Those cracks not only caused the tanks to leak precious revenue but also put the tank at risk of producing off-flavors due to the now unsanitary environment.”

Stacy echoed choosing a quality product and encouraged producers to “specify in tank selection aseptic characteristics and polished welds. This assures breweries that if operated properly, these aspects can reduce the risks of contamination. THIELMANN tanks, for example, are a fully aseptic design for easy cleaning with a simple spray ball,” he said. “We’ve recently seen some poorly-welded vessels in breweries and wineries. This substandard welding and lack of polished welds allow for severe risks with contamination.”

Invite the Vendors to Come to You

The nuts and bolts of tank decisions come down to what your vision is, and how well you communicate this to your equipment vendors.

Each producer has a different purchasing method—some buy tanks outright, using finance options that make sense within the guidelines of individual business plans. Others may lease or rent—an especially popular choice for seasonality spikes, short runs or additional product lines.

What does the typical fermentation tank cost? It depends. Establishing a base of $6,000-$7,000 or more per unit provides a launch pad, but what if the tank is multi-purpose? A standard brite tank may start at $2,500, but be as high as $6,000. Does this leave more wiggle room for additional equipment or change what you’ll produce? Should you utilize a turnkey system and work from that for a while?

Mears told Beverage Master Magazine that customization is what saves money in the long run. “The biggest mistake I see over and over is a brewer simply sending an email or filling out an online form and asking for a standard quote on a system,” he said. “If you take the time to have a conversation with us, we can put together a real quote that fits your specific needs. Explain what you really want, and if it isn’t in your current budget, we can help you decide what comes now vs. later.”

Stacy added: “We find budgets are a large factor, especially for new breweries. I would suggest they ask about the versatility of the systems. To be able to buy one piece of equipment and get three or four different uses out of it is a rare find,” he said. “For specification purposes, we have added many of the popular fittings and connections to make a tank a versatile, multi-use vessel. We also can customize the manways and connections to meet the specific needs.”

Producers that take advantage of customization find it allows for better operations. “We had vendors come to look at our space, and scale our square footage vs. ceiling height to maximize the most volume possible,” Kesteloot said. “They also examined our layout to see if things were going to flow from tank to tank, to packaging and out the door.

Based on increased demand, Boynton at Snake River Brewing said the company scaled up as needed. “We have a hodgepodge of tanks purchased through different sources.  The new large 60 barrel tanks we purchased are very nice.”

While no one can predict the future, these experts suggested using your objectives to determine tank needs. “Right now, with the popularity of IPAs, there are many specialized tanks for dry hopping as well as techniques for dry hopping in standard tanks,” Kesteloot said. “Breweries are using this equipment to maximize flavors and aromas. These are some things we’ll take into account in future expansions. We may even go backward in some applications and add some old, traditional methods.”

Maximizing budget. Providing quality products. Preparing for growth. It’s incredible to think your tank selection is a primary catalyst to accomplish these and other objectives. So take time and let the experts walk you through a set-up that fits your needs. “It’s important to brewers to be innovative, but it’s also important to be consistent and crank out the moneymakers,” Mears said. “Why not have a system that can do both?”

Canning Your Craft Brew

By: Robin Dohrn-Simpson

Marty Jones of Cask Global Canning Solutions has worked tirelessly for nearly twenty years convincing brewers that cans were the right way to package craft beer. He was one of the founders of Oskar Blues Brewery’s “Canned Beer Apocalypse” and remembers the pioneer days of canned craft beer. “I would serve canned beers at fests, and folks would walk by and wave and say ‘I don’t drink canned beer,’ and follow that remark with some additional misinformed comment, such as ‘Cans are bad for beer,’ or ‘Cans impart metallic flavors to beer.’ Many brewers thought we were nuts, heathens, committing sacrilege by questioning the long-revered brown bottle. A few breweries wished misfortune upon us! I always made a point to talk about the benefits of cans, not the negatives of bottles, and that helped to temper some of the backlash. Most consumers loved the idea.”

Many of those benefits include fitting in with into the younger generation’s more environmentally conscious and active lifestyle.

“Cans are welcome in loads of places where bottles are not,” Jones said. “They dramatically shrink shipping costs and energy consumption for shipped beer. They are Mother Nature’s preferred beer package and the most recycled beverage package on the planet. They make it super easy to take goose-bumping beer to the beach, the boat, the backcountry, the bathtub, and other places where beer is a treasured life enhancer.”

Cans also provide protection that isn’t necessarily guaranteed with bottles.

“Cans lock in the flavor of beer better than even dark glass bottles,” according to Mother Road Mobile Canning’s website, motherroad.com. “In glass bottles (especially green and clear ones) beer can become lightstruck, a condition caused when ultraviolet light breaks down hop-derived isohumulones, breaking them apart and allowing them to bind with sulfur atoms, creating a skunky, off-flavor. This flavor is so common that some people think the skunky character is a normal flavor in some beers. Oxidation is another problem for bottled beer. Bottle caps allow oxygen to pass into the beer making it stale.”

Cans provide a full 360 degrees chance for advertising as well, which according to Sarah Brennan, Marketing and Sales Coordinator for Palmer Canning Systems, “is a draw when you want your product to stand out on a shelf.”

Canned Beer Apocalypse

While working at Oskar Blue’s in 2002, Jones recalls, “We purchased Cask’s original tabletop one-can-at-a-time seamer/filler and became the first U.S. craft brewer to brew and can their beer. At that time a couple of craft brewers had beer in cans that was brewed and canned by others under contract.”

Jones and Oskar Blues went out of their way to make cans exciting, crushing stereotypes and creating the kind of beers that consumers wanted, attracting a following of beer drinkers who helped change the industry.

“For the first few years, I spent most of my time debunking the myths about aluminum cans and talking about the many wonders of cans, rather than talking about the beers we squeezed into those cans. That helped change the perceptions. We made a point of putting especially luscious beers into those cans, to inspire more craft beer lovers to give them a chance. That was super helpful, too,” said Jones. “Slowly, other risk takers took the chance on cans and started to reap the benefits and fast-rising sales. Nowadays the perception of cans in comparison to bottles has changed about 180 degrees. There are still a few can cynics and doubters out there, and people who simply prefer the feel and time-tested merits of bottles. But the most maligned and scorned package a craft brewer could once consider has now become the package of choice for many discerning brewers and beer drinkers. Brewers who swore they would never put their beer in a can have now added the mighty aluminum can to their packaging, or tossed out their bottles completely.”

Purchase vs. Mobile Canning Lines

There are many considerations when deciding whether to purchase, lease or rent a mobile canning unit. Mobile canning services are a great way to get into cans without any capital outlay. Many brewers start with a mobile canner and then eventually move to purchase their own canning lines.

Mobile canning lines offer the convenience of coming to you, no matter the size of your brewery. Every state has a variety of companies to assist you. The advantages of their systems are that they have provided the capital outlay for the equipment. Most mobile canning companies will help with inventory management of cans, ends, handles, case flats and off-site storage options. They focus on the canning so you can focus on the brewing.

However, with the rise in cans and use of mobile canners, some brewers find the service not quite worth it.

“While they can make your packaging very easy, their service comes at a cost. We often hear complaints that busy mobile canners are hard to schedule, and their quality control in terms of dissolved oxygen and product loss rates can be lacking, depending on the quality of the operator. Many brewers also don’t feel comfortable turning something as crucial as their packaging over to someone else,” said Jones.

For those canning less than 300 cases a month, mobile canning is often a great choice. However, for those filling 300 cases or more each month, it may be more beneficial to buy an in-house canning line. Often, an in-house system pays itself off within one to two years, and brewers have complete control over all aspects of packaging and filling.

“If you plan to put your product in cans for the long term, the point to purchase your own canning line is right away. The payback period on a purchase is two years at 300 cases a month and one year at 500 cases a month. On top of that, you’ll have full control over your packaging schedule and quality control program. At 500 cases a month, we have literally saved some customers thousands of dollars per month by helping them buy or finance their own canning system,” said Russell Love, President of Cask Global Canning Solutions.

Creating Your Canning System

Canning system manufacturers like Cask Global and Palmer Canning Systems work with breweries to ensure they make the right choice of canning line for their size, output and budget.

“As you build the system that works for your brewery, keep in mind that Cask offers systems that cater to all budgets down to the nano-brewery level and an entire range of systems from manual systems with as little as a two, three, six or 10-head fill stations systems. We can customize canning systems and accessories for just about any beverage type, and we also provide brite (unpainted) or printed aluminum cans to our customers as well,” Love said.

Palmer Canning System’s Brennan told Beverage Master Magazine that they can customize a system for beverages from beer, wine and coffee to energy drinks and infused juices. “The market is really dictating the rise of canning now. There has been so much data to support that canning your beverage is the better process for quality in things like total package oxygen and DOs. Canning is the way to go, we have just been a part of the steady incline of cans,” she said. “We fabricate fully customizable entire systems at our manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Indiana. We have no problem working with other vendors to incorporate ancillary items to a line, although we also design things like weight checkers and date coders in house.”

Palmer Canning offers fixed and mobile versions of Craft-in-Line can filling and seaming systems, as well as Craftbulk, an empty can de-palletizer; Wavegrip, an auto carrier applicator; Propurge, can filling valves; Craftrinse, an empty can rinser; and Craftdry blower systems.

Cleaning Your Cans

Whether you purchase a custom designed system or put together a variety of components that fit your brewery or a combination thereof, Carleton Helical Technologies has created a can and bottle cleaner suited for existing production lines.

“Our equipment is very versatile. We can easily integrate it into existing lines which is easier than developing a new line,” said Nick Carleton, President of Carleton Helical. “The beauty of our cleaner is that it is very simple to install and operate. It is very rare that we have to install or do start-ups, although we do offer the service. Our cleaner has been used in both can and bottling lines, providing easy change-over with our proprietary HP Inverters [that flip] the cans over for cleaning and back.”

Carleton Helical’s cleaners provide customers the option to clean with ionized air, water or any cleaning solution, starting at 10 cans per minute. “This system is also being used for code dating, flipping the can over for the code date and inspection. This provides a very simple method to place the cans in position for the code date,” said Carleton.

What’s on the Horizon

A trend that’s already common in the brewing world seems to be reaching out into the canning world as well: collaboration.

“We are seeing a real interesting growth in the collaboration space where breweries are partnering with other local craft beverage producers (coffee, cider, Kombucha, craft sodas or craft spirits, etc.) to provide affordable co-packing,” said Cask Global’s Jones. “We design all our canning systems to be very easy to switch between slim, sleek and standard diameter cans which allows a brewery the ability to run 250 mL slim nitro cold brew coffee cans or 12-ounce sleek Kombucha cans one day a week. It’s a great model for cool collaborations and also financial efficiency.”