How a beer becomes a can
We’re canning! It’s a pretty exciting time around here, and we wanted to give you all a peek behind the curtain.
The first question we needed to answer was cans or bottles? There are plenty of good reasons for both, but we were very impressed with the modern canning technology. Cans are like mini-kegs. They do a much better job than glass at blocking light and oxygen from getting to your beers (both are enemies of deliciousness).
Plus, cans travel well. They don’t mind if you drop them, and they’re allowed on trails and by the pool. But what really impressed us was how much better cans are for the earth. They’re lighter, so they take less fuel to transport, and they’re infinitely recyclable. Our cans use aluminum from the beers you drank last year, and they’ll eventually become cans of Space Beer in the future. We like being a part of that cycle.
So with that decided, it was time to figure out how we would actually can our beer. Unfortunately, the only rich uncles we have are on Monopoly playing cards, so buying a canning line was out of the question. But there is a new option for craft brewers these days: Mobile canning lines. These operations are just like they sound. Full canning rigs on the back of a truck. They travel from brewery to brewery, packaging liquid happiness as they go. Not a bad gig. It allows small-to-medium sized breweries like us to start canning far earlier than we would be able to otherwise.
Enter Mobile West Canning. Matt and Ryan pulled up their truck on a Monday night last month and unloaded all of their gear. We cleared out the tables from our tap room and converted the place into a make-shift canning line.
We, of course, had no idea about what any of that stuff did. But Matt and Ryan were pros.
We kept ourselves busy by folding up case boxes. You know, the important stuff.
Tuesday morning brought the real action.
Step 1: Can loading.
The cans are shipped in pallets of about 3,000. We had to carefully load layer after layer of cans onto the platform in what was sort of like the brewery equivalent of Jenga.
Step 2: Sanitizing
From the loading platform, the cans are corralled into a single-file line before heading down the sanitizing chute.
Then, in what was probably the most spectacularly simple piece of engineering on this whole rig, the cans get flipped upside down and sprayed with the salt water solution breweries use to clean kegs, cans, and equipment.
See the sprayer in the bottom right corner?
Step 3: Oxygen purging
As we mentioned above, oxygen and light are the two enemies of good beer. Light gets blocked by the can, but oxygen is a bit tricker to get rid of. We achieve this by exploiting a bit of physics. Since CO2 is heavier than O2 (and is good for the beer), we can fill the cans with the gas, and it just sits there. An undisturbed can filled with CO2 will stay filled with CO2 (even if it’s open), since the heavier gas stays in the can while oxygen floats right over it.
The four large white tubes are the beer filling nozzles. We’ll get to them in a second. To the right of them are four smaller stainless tubes that blast the CO2 into the can.
Step 4: Filling
Now that the cans are filled with CO2, they can move down the conveyor belt to the filling heads. Those are the white pipes in the photo above. The amount of beer that comes out each time needs to be precisely controlled so that the cans are filled to exactly the right level every time. That process is handled by a digital timer directed by Matt, our visiting can expert.
A perfectly filled can is a thing of beauty, but it also help keeps the beer fresh. Just as the beer reaches the tip of the can, the filling heads agitate the last bit of beer coming in. This creates a foam head that the lid can be rested on, completely pushing out any remaining air.
Step 5: Sealing
The can heads are rested on the top of the foam bed, and sent down the line. A sealing device spins the can very quickly and crimps the lid to the body of the can, creating a permanent seal.
Cans coming out of the sealing section:
A quick rinse, and the can is ready to go!
Step 6: Packaging
The cans are wiped dry and assembled into four packs. We chose the four pack holders because they are made from recycled plastic and are bird friendly. They cut down the amount of packaging material dramatically. Each four pack is assembled by hand (artisanal packaging?), and grouped into cases of 24.
The cases are stacked onto a pallet, and sent directly to one of our distributors or stored in our walk-in cooler for use in the tap room.
Step 7: Enjoying!
This is the easy part.
Noche Dulce cans are now available throughout Arizona!