Traveling canning operation allows small breweries to go mobile

Canned beer is taking the craft beer industry by storm. Read how a Michigan based company is taking to the road to can your favorite ale.
There's a new beer can in town and it ain't like the one your old man drank from. You'll find it at the nearest place where craft beer is sold; that is, if it has been canned by the Michigan Mobile Canning company.

"Canned beer is the wave of the future in the craft beer industry," says Andrew McLean, from Kalamazoo and the co-owner of Michigan Mobile Canning. McLean says today's cans are made differently than in days past, with a non-metal liner that is pleasing to the palate.

 "The craft beer crowd is a savvy group," says McLean. "The story is out on cans."

Just a year ago the humble beer can wasn't as widely available in this state for the beer-sloshing, big-story-telling crowd of young folks who are increasingly turning to craft beer and flocking to the microbreweries for brews that are a cut above.

Michigan Mobile Canning is making the spread of the can possible by taking its traveling canning operation--the first of its kind in Michigan--to a micro-brewery near you, to can your favorite beverage.

Started just last year, Michigan Mobile Canning, an affiliate of Mobile Canning Systems in Colorado, is quickly making inroads into the beer canning business; in fact, they're on the road as this is being written, sending their 18-foot mobile canning unit to various locales in Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana.

As the old saying goes, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. In this case the mobile canning systems wheels were already rolling. Mobile Canning Systems, a first of its kind craft beer canning operation, was launched in 2011 by Pat Hartman and Ron Popma. The two men were already raising eyebrows in the canned beer industry with their success.

Meanwhile, back in Michigan, McLean and his partner Scott Richards, of Traverse City, were having daydreams--albeit separately--of dumping their safe but less than satisfying day jobs and opening a similar business in the Great Lakes State. Separately, but almost simultaneously, they contacted the Colorado company. Company reps suggested the obvious: that the two meet each other. From there, things started happening quickly.

"We met with Mobile Canning Systems in December of 2012 and three weeks later we had a contract," says Richards.

The two men are pleased with the success they've had so far. They have 12 clients but have only tapped into about 4 percent of the microbrewery business in their region. That leaves a lot of room for expansion. To meet the demand, the two have ordered a second mobile canning truck that will take to the road in the next few months.

Michigan Mobile Canning is filling a niche in the microbrewery market. It's not practical, or perhaps even desirable, to can beer offsite--and the small microbreweries often can't afford the cost or space to have their own canning machinery.

"We try to make the barrier to canning as easy as possible so they can do what they do best," says McLean.

The cans with custom logos are in place when they arrive at a microbrewery. McLean and helper Chris Hendricks set up all the canning equipment inside the brewery, as close to the tanks as they can, and start the canning process. The cans then are ringed and boxed in custom packs of four for the pint cans, and six for the 12-ounce cans.

"We let the cans be the packaging," says McLean of the cans of beer that will end up in retail stores.

Meanwhile, Richards, who has plenty of experience in the beer and wine industry, particularly sales, does the marketing and books from his home in Elk Rapids where he lives with his family. He's also on the road quite a bit himself, sometimes with family in tow, making his pitch for canned beer and other beverages, which increasingly is turning to cider and possibly other drinks.

"This platform will work for a lot of different beverages," says Richards. He says right now 30 percent of their business is going to canning cider. He has also talked with coffee makers who are interested in what they're doing.

McLean, who has written extensively for Michigan Beer Guide and Microbrew.com, says the days are long and sometimes tiring but the satisfaction of doing what he loves is off the charts.

"It was all luck, says McLean."The idea came around at the right time. We worked hard to be successful."

Neil Moran is a freelance writer in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and owner of Haylake Business Communications. You can find him on Twitter at @moranwrite.

Reasons to Love Canned Beer

The craft beer industry is realizing the benefits to canning beer, rather than bottling. Craftcans.com, a website dedicated to news and reviews for what they've dubbed the "Canned Beer Revolution," in craft brewing, offers up several reasons why canned beer is superior:

-Cans actually lock in the flavor of beer better even than dark glass bottles. No light penetrates the cans, and the seal is tighter than a bottlecap, for fresh taste longer.
    
-Cans are more environmentally friendly; they're easier to recycle and require less packaging.

-Cans are cheaper for the brewery and distributor to ship. Cans don't break.

-Cans are easier and more convenient to bring along on outdoor activities like camping, disc golf, hiking, a day at the beach, and any other activity that goes well with good beer.
    
-Cans get cold faster and take up less space in your fridge.
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