Canned Wheat

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The Vital and Improved Canning Techniques for Canada’s Breweries

By: James Burt

“We usually can every Friday,” said Black Oak Brewing Company’s inside sales and social media coordinator Mark Blommers from Etobicoke, Ontario. “We have three mainstays going in cans and going out to shops and bars. But now but our seasonals, like Beat the Heat, they get into cans too. It’s true that some clients only drink bottles and that’s fine. But cans are just easier—for space, for retail, everything.”

Though more mainstream beer drinkers might take their favourite beer(s) coming in cans for granted, global beer drinkers are only recently accepting canned beer as a decent medium to enjoy beer. While more sophisticated beer aficionados continue to stand by bottles or draft as the only way to drink beer, cans are enjoying a growing acceptance. Moreover, canning technology is changing to suit various breweries’ operations and lending themselves to canning for conditions of specific beer types, often right on site for a quick packaging session as soon as the batch is done.

“On Friday, our associates from Sessions Craft Canning come into our brewery,” said Blommers. “They roll in with their big truck and can up whatever we’ve brewed. On that, they all the can labeling and wrapping done beforehand at their warehouse with their own beer gear.”

Modern mobile canning units for smaller or specific brewing operations might surprise beer connoisseurs since they can beer quickly and move in and out of a given space in very little time. But they are viable for breweries today seeking easier canning methodologies to suit their brewing spaces or budgets.

“We have four mobile canning machines, plus an in-house labeling facility for shrink sleeve cans. Craft Sessions was the first company to bring mobile canning to Ontario back in 2015,” said Jeff Rogowsky, CEO of Sessions Craft Canning in Mississauga, Ontario. “We supply the cans and the whole process for our clients such as Black Oak takes about an hour. Once our canning equipment is set up, we can typically fill over two thousand one-hundred tall boy cans [473 mL] per hour.”

As with most other facets in the brewing process, quality control procedures come into play with any canning session.

“When you work with so many breweries as we do, strict quality control procedures are of the utmost importance,” said Rogowsky. “Before we do any canning on any site, a strict Clean in Place, or CIP, routine is always done. We wear all the necessary safety protection for our eyes and ears. But the one special thing to note in canning is the ATP [adenosine triphosphate] tester. It shows any organic material that may be on the can’s surface. Using that, we can make sure the cans get properly cleaned and that nothing living creeps into the cans that can ruin the beer. To date, Sessions has canned over five-and-a-half million cans for over forty different Ontario craft breweries and cideries.”

Other breweries have their canning mechanisms installed in-house in more static machine formats. If they have enough space, a brewery can vertically integrate and do all their beer production plus packaging under one roof.

“We use Cask Brewing Systems from Alberta for our canning machinery,” said District Brewing Co.’s production assistant AJ Leeks. Based out of Regina, Saskatchewan, District does all of their canning right after completing their brewing. “They have good materials and gear. On a full production day we can roll out fourteen thousand cans. We started with stubby or short cans, but now have tall boys in our line-up.”

When asked if their canning equipment has issues, Leeks spoke of only occasional details brewers have to be aware of when setting their equipment for a canning session.

“The one thing we have to make sure is that the dyes are correctly set for seaming the cans. Seams make sure the cans are sealed correctly. The seam has to be exact—it can’t be too long or too short. Leakage will arise in both cases if the seams aren’t proper. Whenever a brewery gets canning gear installed in their workspace, that’s the one aspect they have to get down quickly. Usually the rest is pretty easy to learn and use from there.”

“There’re also filling issues,” added Blommers. “If cans don’t get filled with beer correctly or with too much beer, it can cause the beer to go bad faster because of the oxygen levels in the cans. Hence low fills don’t get distributed as it would not be the best tasting beer within a week or two.”