Jackalope Brewing Company is coming up on the third anniversary of the opening of their taproom on Eighth St. just north of Division. They have been producing a great lineup of beer for on premise consumption at scores of bars and restaurants around middle Tennessee. Then, about a year ago, a man came in and announced he was going to can their beer. Steve, one of the owners who has wanted to find a way to package their product for quite some time, thoughtfully said “oh yeah, how are you going to do that?” The considered reply was a simple, I don't know, but he vowed to find a way.
Toucan Mobile Canning was formed shortly thereafter by Mo Oelker, the mystery man with a plan. They took delivery of their Wild Goose Canning Technologies MC-250 which was modified for mobility inside their 20' box truck. They bring the canning system right to the brewery, set it up in about an hour, then start canning. Based in Chattanooga, they service several great micro-breweries in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and have recently expanded beyond there.
Aluminum cans are becoming the package of choice for craft brewers, as we have seen even some of the long established breweries, such as Boston Brewing (Sam Adams) and Sierra Nevada add canning operations to their facilities. With smaller micro-breweries that have not been able to add bottling or canning operations, due to such things as entry cost or space limitations, mobile canning allows them to package their beer for off premise consumption. On premise, of course, is consumption on site such as a bar or restaurant. By being able to offer off premise packaged product for purchase at grocery stores, gas stations, etc., they potentially have the ability to expand their market considerably.
For Jackalope, they quickly saw the advantage of using the mobile canning system and are now canning about once every three weeks. Last week, early April, was their sixth time of canning their beer and the first time they actually asked for volunteers to help. The first group they approached, of course, was the Music City Beer Society, and they quickly had enough volunteers to fill the need. There were a few extra people there as well, Jackalope regulars, and a representative from the Great American Craft Beer Tour. Previously, they had used brewery staff only, which severely limited their capacity to both can and operate the brewery. So, with a lot of great, dedicated assistance on the line, they produced a record 580 cases of newly canned Thunder Ann, almost 14,000 cans, some of which was picked up early by their distributor, Bounty Beverage. The demand is that high for canned Thunder Ann.
The operation is simple enough for the most part. Run by Toucan operating partner Carl Oelker, the empty, topless cans are loaded onto a feed conveyor. They drop into a rail system that rinses and sanitizes the cans, rotates them to drain them, then completes the rotation before stopping at the four head fill section. Then cans are purged with CO2 then filled with beer. The cap drops onto the top where it is spun and roll sealed. The cans get a final rinse and pop out to the volunteers.
The can tops are wiped dry by two volunteers, then two more pop them into the Pak-tech six pack holder. This is a sturdier, reusable version of the six pack rings, plus they also cover the top of the cans so that dust, dirt, and other such non-niceties can't get to the can. Two more people then took the six packs, made sure the Thunder Ann label was dutifully pointing out, loaded them into a case carton, then stacked the cases ten per row, ten rows high on pallets. At forty cans per minute, this could be a bit of a challenge to keep up. The best part was when the can top didn't get sealed onto the can. You were left with essentially a 12 ounce open top can of ice cold, fresh as possible, American pale ale. Amazingly refreshing. Only happened a few times, though. Really!
Again, Jackalope is coming up on their third anniversary. They will be celebrating at the brewery with live music, games, and other crazy stuff. There was some talk when they announced their location a little over three years ago, just a block and a half from Yazoo Brewing Company. But Linus thought it was great and it has turned out as such. In fact, two more breweries have opened just a few more blocks east in what has become known as the Nashville Brewery District.
So be sure to try a canned Thunder Ann, and also pop in to the brewery for more tasty, fresh, craft beer. They also have a wild trivia game Thursday night. Don't miss it.
Time for a pint. Cheers!