Craft brew­ers em­brac­ing alu­minum cans

‘It’s more con­ve­nient, bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment’

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - DAN HEAL­ING

CAL­GARY — For a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of con­nois­seur, beer sold in alu­minum cans can­not call it­self “craft beer.”

But that’s chang­ing to the re­lief of Peter Love, whose fam­i­ly­owned Cal­gary man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness spe­cial­izes in small-scale can­ning ma­chines aimed at the craft brew­ing mar­ket.

“We have a snobby in­dus­try,” con­cedes the 65-year-old pres­i­dent of Cask Brew­ing Sys­tems Inc.

Love has been try­ing to change beer snob at­ti­tudes since 1999, when his com­pany came up with a man­ual can­ning sys­tem to sell to cus­tomers mak­ing small amounts of beer in brew-on-premises busi­nesses in On­tario.

Three years later, he in­tro­duced the prod­uct to a per­plexed in­dus­try at the Craft Brew­ers Con­fer­ence in Cleve­land.

“I had one guy come up to me and say, ‘That’s the dumb­est idea I’ve ever heard. What craft brewer would ever put their beer into an alu­minum can?’” re­calls Love.

“(Now) we have 725 cus­tomers in about 44 coun­tries around the world.”

He said Cask ex­pects to in­stall 100 to 120 sys­tems this year, about the same as in 2016, adding to a client list that in­cludes brew­eries in Canada, the U.S., Aus­tralia, Eng­land and Sval­bard, Nor­way (an is­land about 1,200 kilo­me­tres from the North Pole).

Ot­tawa’s Be­yond The Pale Brew­ing Co. started out sell­ing beer in one-and two-litre glass bot­tles called growlers four years ago, but added a can­ning sys­tem — a sec­ond-hand Cask prod­uct — two years ago in re­sponse to cus­tomer de­mand, says co-owner Rob McIsaac.

“We love canned beer,” said McIsaac. “If you are try­ing to put out a pre­mium prod­uct, it’s bet­ter for the beer to be in cans. It’s more con­ve­nient, it’s bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment, it makes a lot of sense.”

He said the com­pany still sells beer in bot­tles and growlers but most of the 400,000 litres it sold last year went out the door in cans.

Cask’s tar­get mar­ket keeps grow­ing. The num­ber of small brew­eries in Canada pro­duc­ing less than 200,000 litres per year rose from 220 in 2010 to 490 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to Beer Canada, an Ot­tawa-based trade as­so­ci­a­tion. Mean­while, the over­all vol­ume of beer sold in cans in Canada in­creased 7.3 per cent while bot­tled beer de­clined by 9.2 per cent.

The U.S. Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports two per cent of the to­tal vol­ume from craft brew­eries in the States was pack­aged in cans in 2011. Now it’s up to 12 per cent.

Cask has grown from a hand­ful of staff five years ago to more than 35 now and Love says he is con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing be­yond the cramped quar­ters of his Cal­gary ware­house and as­sem­bly plant.

The com­pany sells four can­ning ma­chines, rang­ing from a man­ual can­ner ca­pa­ble of 10 cans per minute to a fully au­to­mated sys­tem that can do 75 cans a minute. They range in price from $25,000 to $250,000.

It also acts as an agent for an Amer­i­can com­pany that makes and prints the cans.

Love says the test of a can­ning sys­tem is its abil­ity to fill and seal cans with­out al­low­ing oxy­gen — which pro­duces a skunky flavour — into the beer. Cask’s au­to­mated sys­tems use a purg­ing noz­zle that shoots car­bon diox­ide into the can ahead of the beer, push­ing the oxy­gen out. And tem­per­a­ture is vi­tal — Cask in­sists the beer be chilled to be­tween zero and two de­grees C be­fore en­ter­ing the can.

Love said the com­pany wants to in­crease sales in Europe and Asia and is try­ing to get into new ap­pli­ca­tions.

JEFF MCIN­TOSH, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A can­ning ma­chine go­ing through test­ing at the Cask Global Can­ning So­lu­tions fac­tory in Cal­gary, Alta.

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