The Topic: it’s Toucan CAN-ned Man! (Or: A Morning Well Spent with Mo, Carl, Bailey, Steve and Jackalope
Written by Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics, and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 15 years.
The machinery chattered, rumbled as it twisted, turned and inserted probes. No, we’re not on some odd alien space ship with a long line production line of cows, or abductees, about to be experimented on. Instead, as beer cans moved quickly down that line, one almost expected all that was left of the Terminator to reach the end and attempt to strangle Linda Hamilton.
No Terminator here to be feared!
Instead, there was plenty of beer, Toucan-ers: Mo and Carl Oelker, then Master Brewer Bailey and Head Brewer Steve at the end of the behemoth; putting together six packs.
Oh, and just to assure any concerned quaffers: no one was being strangled.
Instead a virgin was being sacrificed.
A beer virgin.
Yes, I was there for the first canning of Rompo, one of the standard brews at Jackalope, and only the second Jackalope brew to be canned. The first was Thunder Ann, their pale ale.
Last Saturday Music City Brewers had their monthly meeting at Jackalope. I always enjoy Jackalope because it’s the kind of business model that means so much to me. Two college students plotted to start a brewery, and like all kinds of different people of various ages, their dream comes true. Essentially, in a wider sense of “family,” a family model: as in “the family of Jackalope.” Not much later Steve Wright hopped onboard. Starting with a Sabco, better known as a Brew Magic, they went to large scale, computerized, high tech brewing. Now they also have a more pilot appropriate brew system again, a brew tree, and fermenters for their adventures beyond their standard quaffs.
Bailey had always wanted to can. That was but a dream until the day Mo Oelker walked into Jackalope with THE plan to start canning Jackalope brews, starting with Thunder Ann, their American Pale Ale.
Mo, and his son, Carl, own Toucan Mobile Canning, and he agreed that the investment for a mobile canning line was substantial. Carl is Mo’s business partner and manages the business on a daily basis.
Their truck is unassuming. You’d never guess what comes out, or what was going on inside Jackalope.
Inside was what might also be described as some long mechanical dragon. Have no fear, maiden Bailey, I will defend you against… oh. wait its not really a “dragon.” Instead the long canning line feeds off a giant pallet ready to be filled, and instead of a Terminator at the end I found happy Bailey and Steve packing up the final six packs of Rompo, their Red Rye .
Jackalope is starting by canning their biggest sellers, year around brews. We did talk about canning their more off kilter brews, me musing that maybe some of their unusual offerings might sell even better, as in “unique.” Just a personal philosophy. I think a lot of craft buyers do look for weird, unique. But, as Bailey explained, they can do small runs, but to really do it right: label and all, it’s an expensive proposition. To do Rompo they had to save up for their second canned Jackalope. A lot of preplanning is involved, approvals needed, like label approval. With Thunder, Jackalope’s plans for the text included what everyone in beerdom understands is a standard hop descriptor: “citrus.” But to get approval, they were told, Jackalope would have to include a recipe providing what fruits had been added, when no fruits were involved at all. Despite being told that, they insisted if the can labels included “citrus.” Time to scrap what they had spent so much time and other resources on.
I found the filler operation fascinating as four long metal probes inserted themselves into the topless cans, sinking heavier than air CO2 into the bottom of the can, then four fillers topped off those cans with Rompo. Tops flipped down onto the cans and then were sealed. Finally, energetic Jackalope staff prepare the sixpacks.
And while I used “sealed,” I guess the proper term for the device is a “seamer.” It makes a double seam by rolling over the lid, and then a second roll flattens the seam.
According to History of Can…
Introduction of the beer can. The first beer can was “Krueger Cream Ale” – sold by the Kruger Brewing Company of Richmond, Virginia.
Felifoel breweries in Wales introduce canned beer into the UK using cone shaped topped steel cans.
1894: Ams machine company begins manufacturing locked double seam cans.
According to Toucan’s website…
The first American craft beer to be commercially filled by a mobile canning outfit was Crabtree Brewing Company’s Eclipse Black IPA. It was canned and first released at the end of November 2011.
I’m sure it was a long process improving the can, the process and the mobile part of the operation to get it where it is today
You have just read about only four cans passing through this mechanical beastie, but truth told it’s a continual process. Starting with a huge can filled pallet, there’s a long line of cans following behind and ahead; rinsing, filling, seaming… finally reaching the busy six pack making employees.
In an E-mail Mo told me the current design is limited to four cans at a time being filled, or having CO2 inserted. However, he said Wild Goose is working on a yet to be marketed eight fill head machine with two seamers.
The line runs 40 cans per minute on 12 ounce cans, and 35 if the cans are 16 ounce.
Sanitation is achieved with an industry standard CIP process that includes an acid-based cleaner and several rinse cycles pre-canning run. They change beer lines on a regular basis and just invested in an ATP testing system that checks the machine for cleanliness.
I asked Mo the question that craft brewers everywhere ponder. Jump into the sour/wild yeast deep end of the brew pool, or… not? It that same E, Mo told me they cannot, and will not, can sours: too much of a chance of cross contamination. But they can do kettle sours, as long as the wort is boiled long enough to kill all sour yeasts.
Toucan’s original business plan was to locate in Chattanooga, but they now operate out of Nashville and will soon have a second line, full time in the Atlanta area. They travel about 200 miles to can now, however there are exceptions. Carl took the truck to Maine last year and worked under contract with their affiliate, Iron Heart Canning. they needed help to cover demand. But right now they travel between Knoxville, Nashville, Atlanta and North Alabama on a regular basis.
Of course that includes Jackalope.
While I couldn’t stay, true to the beginning of this edition of Brew Biz, I wouldn’t have been surprised if, as he left, Mo had done an Arnold, “I’ll be back.”
One sequel I’d be happy to see.
And, of course, so will Jackalope fans.
Brew Biz : Werts and All,` is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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