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Thread: Canning Discussion For Nano and Brewpubs- 2019/2020

  1. #1
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    Canning Discussion For Nano and Brewpubs- 2019/2020

    I've been through about 20 pages of posts on here and have not found any real success or preferences of the current state of getting into canning on the nano scale. Many of the direct fill or counter pressure can fillers seem really expensive for a few John Guest fittings, a few solenoids, $50 worth of gauges and some impressive stainless to cover up the simplicity of what you just paid a princely sum for. Granted, I may be over-simplifying and I do believe a mechanical engineer who figures something out for our scale of brewing should be compensated justly but it seems like a counter-pressure one head filler could be done for $500 or less, so a four head should be do-able for $2000 to $2500 or less. So why aren't they? This isn't black box stuff here, just simple physics, a slight amount of chemistry, and the hardware we can pull down from any number of sources on the internet. Granted, more automation would demand more money, but for our scale, high automation is not the goal here.

    This is the dynamic those of us in the nano or brewpub side of things face: economy of scale works against us when it comes to grain, yeast, hops, packaging, etc. Aside from that, most of use boot-strapped our brewpub or nano on a tight budget to get going. Our most profitable beer is the one we are pouring into that 68 cent Libby pint "mixing" glass, we use 600 or 800 times a year in our tap room. Going into cans seems fool-hardy because of the increased packaging cost with the consumer expectation that a pint can of beer should cost no more than $2.50 or $3.00 per can. For a nano to grow though, you have to get your beer into other places other than the tap room.

    Personally, I will go to budget and prices first, so when I see something compelling that would fit our size and should be within our budget on a Saturday night while I'm surfing the web and relaxing, it's a real turn-off when I need to call customer service or send a web inquiry which may or may not be answered within a week.

    For the ones who will post a price, I've found a few tempting options on line like the Dani can filler and Xpressfill open and counter pressure fillers but can only find limited feedback from either happy or unhappy customers. I'm reluctant to dump $4000 to $5000 into a system I may or may not be able to get good support for when cans are over-foaming, taking in too much O2, etc. There's just not much feedback for the type of filling equipment we need which looks promising. I think Oktober and All American have enough positive reviews to think of them as the gold standard for can seaming, so it really only calls into credibility reliable and easy to use can fillers and reasonably priced can suppliers and whether or not shrink wrapped is better than your own self-adhesive labels over slicks.

    For sake of discussion, let's say $7.5K and up filling and seaming solutions are off topic for this conversation, so whatever solution you have for $7500 or less is in play here (way less would be best!). This is based on the assumption someone could get going with an Xpressfill counter-pressure two head filler and an Oktober 16 oz seamer as the most expensive nano options for around $7500 if you want something quickly delivered and within budget. I'd like to see some solutions for $3K or less for us smaller brewers because they have to be out there.

    (FWIW, Oktober advertises your seamer will ship 2 weeks ARO. That's not at all accurate- they had ours on the truck the next day ARO. I love a company which under-promises and over-delivers!).

    I'm also overwhelmed by all the printing companies who suddenly have gotten into the canning business or is that vice versa? This is other issue I've found after sending queries to multiple can companies for shrink label cans is that pint can costs are all over the place and you have to double check to make sure your quote includes crowns, the shrink label already on the cans, no hidden design charges, tariffs, customer service fees, etc. and then finding a vendor close enough to justify the shipping costs to your brewery.

    Personally, I just got our Oktober 19.2MK seamer and some cans to work with to perfect what we are trying to do. I also found some Zahm & Nagel lab equipment on eBay awhile back which included three counter pressure can fill heads I've yet to play with, and this may all play out as being all we need at this point. I want to go to four packs of pint cans for out the door packaging and to sell to area bars and restaurants with limited or no tap space in a 50-100 mile radius.

    We are in a remote part of the U.S. southwest. We have many tourists with a thirst for "boutique" craft beer they can take home and locals are finally waking up as to why craft offerings are vastly superior to the macrobrews they were raised on but at $5 or $6 a pint they keep making the same bland purchases at the corner store and might buy one or two pints a week at my place because that's all they can justify on a retiree or day laborer's budget. From an economist's stand-point, I get it: Be happy with the $10 a week from that customer drinking from the aforementioned .68 cent Libby glass we re-use 600-800 times a year and not adding $.50 to $.75 to the cost of selling that guest a beer at 1/3 to 1/2 the price per pint in cans for take out. I mean really, why sell someone four pints of beer I normally charge $5.00, in the pub, for $2.50 to $3.00 a pint in a package that costs .50 to .75 per pint? Even in a growler, they pay me $4.00 a pint.

    Or I could look at it this way: they give $12 for four pints they can take home and share with friends who might also finally come in to commiserate with their buddies at the tap room once or twice a week and add their highly profitable $5 to $6 per pint "in-the-pub" contribution to our till. It also increases our reach when the bar 40 miles away starts selling a lot of our beer and those locals come in as a day excursion to drink it "right off the tap" and decide to have $40 in food with their group. So there is justification for it and increases in volume make it easier to pay for larger equipment as your brand grows.

    For a nano brewery or brewpub, cans are probably more of a marketing item which provides some profit to the operation at the point of sale, but it can do an awful lot to get more tourists in who tried a beer a friend brought them and they end up coming in for a few pints, a full meal, and maybe $10-$20 in merch purchases.

    Here's what I'm after with this thread:

    -Best DIY or commercial can fillers either open or counter-pressure (remember, this package with a seamer needs to be <$7500 total for a brewery and can be operated on a table top.)

    -Best pricing and reliable delivery for 12 and 16 oz. shrink wrapped cans

    -Better to go with slick cans and a separate labeling vendor?

    -Great DIY vinyl inkjet label program or templates which are "COLA ready" and easy to apply?

    Any other pertinent thoughts or ideas?

  2. #2
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    In canning, you get what you pay for. In some cases you pay a lot for a finicky machine that has trouble maintaining the lowest oxygen levels. This is usually due to environmental issues. The bottom line, if you are not able to buy the right machine, it might be small or large, but it has the right bells and whistles, then you should stick to bottling. A lot less goes wrong in a bottle due to the physics of the situation, the biggest factor being the size of the opening.

    Having seen this with every customer that uses various less than ideal machines, or even mobile setups, YOU WILL have too high of packaged oxygen, and YOU WILL experience bad reviews because of this. This will be even worse on any "semi-automatic" or "manual" canning machines. If you knew how hard it was for even the best and biggest breweries to maintain acceptable oxygen levels in their cans, you wouldn't for a minute think that anything less than $7500 was even remotely capable of providing a reasonable chance of consistent success. And I have seen this problem on machines ranging up to 60 or 70 k for the whole setup.

    In my opinion, this is not a place where you would want to go lowest bid. Get a crowler machine and tell people to keep it cold and drink it quick, thats your best way to be in cans at this point.

  3. #3
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    I got an Xpressfill XF4500C and I have done everything to try and reduce oxidation and can't seem to keep out. I regret the purchase because I was hoping to package a more stable product rather than a glorified growler option.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by jebzter View Post
    In canning, you get what you pay for. In some cases you pay a lot for a finicky machine that has trouble maintaining the lowest oxygen levels. This is usually due to environmental issues. The bottom line, if you are not able to buy the right machine, it might be small or large, but it has the right bells and whistles, then you should stick to bottling. A lot less goes wrong in a bottle due to the physics of the situation, the biggest factor being the size of the opening.

    Having seen this with every customer that uses various less than ideal machines, or even mobile setups, YOU WILL have too high of packaged oxygen, and YOU WILL experience bad reviews because of this. This will be even worse on any "semi-automatic" or "manual" canning machines. If you knew how hard it was for even the best and biggest breweries to maintain acceptable oxygen levels in their cans, you wouldn't for a minute think that anything less than $7500 was even remotely capable of providing a reasonable chance of consistent success. And I have seen this problem on machines ranging up to 60 or 70 k for the whole setup.

    In my opinion, this is not a place where you would want to go lowest bid. Get a crowler machine and tell people to keep it cold and drink it quick, thats your best way to be in cans at this point.
    I dunno, I've drank from crowlers which were 2-3 months old with no noticeable staling and that's one wide mouth! If they are foamed correctly when filled, there's less room for O2.

    I do share your concerns about packaged O2. However, I'm not terribly worried about long shelf life on canned product for the scale I'm looking at. If I thought I were going to package beer that would sit in a warehouse or shelf for 3 to 6 months, I'd be far more concerned. Tourism in our area revolves around the great outdoors- hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, climbing, etc. Cans make a better package for the outback. Crowlers, to me, are a packaging oddity. It forces you to either share with a friend or commit to a quart of beer at one sitting.

    In a 1300 sq. ft. brew pub with about 220 sq. ft. of brewing and fermentation space, a massive can line isn't in the cards. That's the purpose of the thread, figuring out what makes sense for nanos and pubs. I'm initially anticipating canning 10 or 20 four packs of pints at a time and figuring on those turning in a week or two. Naturally, that figure changes as outside distribution grows.

    I plan to start with some test canning with the Zahm equipment I have and do periodic sampling on the sealed cans to see what sort of shelf life I'm getting before any sense of staling. If it lasts only two weeks, that's a concern. I anticipate a much better shelf life if the equipment is managed properly during filling.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by jherrington View Post
    I got an Xpressfill XF4500C and I have done everything to try and reduce oxidation and can't seem to keep out. I regret the purchase because I was hoping to package a more stable product rather than a glorified growler option.
    Interesting. There is a pretty good debate out there on counter-pressure vs. open fill with some arguing open fill results in less DO being pushed into the beer when loaded under pressure. Is it a malfunction of the machine itself or are you thinking an open fill system might have worked better or are you thinking there are no ideal conditions for packaging on this scale?

  6. #6
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    Ive seen it go in a few days at some places. Capping on foam is not a cure all for cans, it helps certainly. The biggest factor is the time from full to lidding. Every second counts when it comes to oxygen ingress, and it moves fast through foam.

    The point I'm making is that packaging is not something to be undertaken because you can get a few more cans of sales. Consistent product and margins need to be looked at, canning even in a semi-automatic fashion is labor intensive and yields sometimes as bad as 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 cans that are unacceptable oxygen levels. Especially on the small scale, your labor and materials costs will be so high, I would be surprised if you even get any money from it to the bottom line.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by jebzter View Post
    Ive seen it go in a few days at some places. Capping on foam is not a cure all for cans, it helps certainly. The biggest factor is the time from full to lidding. Every second counts when it comes to oxygen ingress, and it moves fast through foam.

    The point I'm making is that packaging is not something to be undertaken because you can get a few more cans of sales. Consistent product and margins need to be looked at, canning even in a semi-automatic fashion is labor intensive and yields sometimes as bad as 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 cans that are unacceptable oxygen levels. Especially on the small scale, your labor and materials costs will be so high, I would be surprised if you even get any money from it to the bottom line.
    As of now, my investment is minimal other than the seamer, the Zahm counter pressure fillers were an exceptional find (i.e. cheap), it will give me a chance to QC before going all in on a full scale.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blu Dragonfly View Post
    Interesting. There is a pretty good debate out there on counter-pressure vs. open fill with some arguing open fill results in less DO being pushed into the beer when loaded under pressure. Is it a malfunction of the machine itself or are you thinking an open fill system might have worked better or are you thinking there are no ideal conditions for packaging on this scale?
    I pre-purge the cans before place them in the filler, then the filler does about an 8 second purge, pressurizes and fills. After filling I seam the lid (on foam) immediately. I feel like my process is pretty good but I’m still finding major oxidation after a month.

    I guess I still need to identify where this problem is coming from exactly…

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tapcooler View Post
    Does your filler purge with the can open or sealed?
    sealed, about 10psi

  10. #10
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    May 2018
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    Nashville, TN
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    Mobile canning

    Have you looked into mobile canning for a nano?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by jherrington View Post
    I pre-purge the cans before place them in the filler, then the filler does about an 8 second purge, pressurizes and fills. After filling I seam the lid (on foam) immediately. I feel like my process is pretty good but I’m still finding major oxidation after a month.

    I guess I still need to identify where this problem is coming from exactly…

    Xpressfill has recently sent me an upgrade for my machine that extends the purge time up to 30 seconds as well as added top off function for better foam on sealing. This upgrade is exactly what the machine needed. So, problem solved and praise to the Xpressfill guys for doing that!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by jherrington View Post
    Xpressfill has recently sent me an upgrade for my machine that extends the purge time up to 30 seconds as well as added top off function for better foam on sealing. This upgrade is exactly what the machine needed. So, problem solved and praise to the Xpressfill guys for doing that!
    You can get Xpressfill on the phone in minutes and they just want to figure out what to do to help producers. They have sent me a bottle filling attachment for my open fill can machine. Its awesome. We bottle 400 bottles in a couple of hours.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmbrosiaOrchard View Post
    You can get Xpressfill on the phone in minutes and they just want to figure out what to do to help producers. They have sent me a bottle filling attachment for my open fill can machine. Its awesome. We bottle 400 bottles in a couple of hours.
    I'm glad your experience was good with those guys.

    I've had the opposite of luck. Called 4 weeks in a row and the only response I got was "I don't know why it's doing that" Their solution was to give a contact for another brewery that has had luck with their product to call them. Overall I'm not 100% satisfied with that level of customer service.

    Sent from my SM-G973U using Tapatalk

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crosley View Post
    I'm glad your experience was good with those guys.

    I've had the opposite of luck. Called 4 weeks in a row and the only response I got was "I don't know why it's doing that" Their solution was to give a contact for another brewery that has had luck with their product to call them. Overall I'm not 100% satisfied with that level of customer service.

    Sent from my SM-G973U using Tapatalk
    That is unfortunate, how long ago was that?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmbrosiaOrchard View Post
    That is unfortunate, how long ago was that?
    Pretty much all this summer. I eventually got it 90% figured out but still having major foaming issues on mine.

    Sent from my SM-G973U using Tapatalk

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