Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 17, 2013

Canned craft beer? Can do

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Right Brain Brewery owner Russell Springsteen has wanted to produce and distribute beer in cans for quite a while.

But the cost was too great — as much as $150,000 for a simple canning line. He didn’t have the physical space either until Right Brain’s recent move from the Warehouse District to a former manufacturing building on 16th Street.

It doesn’t matter now. Right Brain has a date to be Michigan Mobile Canning’s first customer on June 24.

Michigan Mobile Canning owners Scott Richards of Elk Rapids and Andrew McLean of Kalamazoo have obtained statewide affiliation rights from Mobile Canning Systems in Longmont, Colo., to operate the mobile canning business. Soon, they’ll be tooling around Michigan in a 16-foot box truck, bringing with them the equipment and aluminum to help breweries and others can products on site.

Richards, 41, will leave his job as a sales manager for Wicksall Distributors to start the business. He used to live in Colorado, where some of the larger craft brewers have fixed canning lines, while smaller ones depend on the mobile service to can their beers.

Mobile Canning Systems put Richards in touch with McLean, 30, after he also expressed interest in a Mobile Canning start-up in Michigan.

“We sat down the first part of December, had dinner and within two weeks decided to do this together,” Richards said.

An 850-pound, four-head system on casters from Wild Goose Canning Technologies is engineered to be portable “so two humans can actually move it around,” Richards said.

Petroleum-based labels will be printed in advance and shrink-wrapped to the cans, which come off the line at a rate of 25 to 35 a minute. Production is conducted under each brewer’s supervision.

“We can really crank out a ton of beer,” Richards said.

About 25 companies have expressed interest so far, Richards said. the original business plan called for purchasing a second truck in 14 to 16 months, but they now expect to be placing an order by the end of this year. They’ll warehouse cans at Richards’ pole barn in Elk Rapids to start and they expect they’ll eventually need a second warehouse, probably in Grand Rapids.

“Everyone has said it’s not a matter of when we’re going to use you, it’s a matter of how much,” Richards said. “And it’s not just breweries. We’ve had a great response from meaderies and cideries. And there are so many applications … some coffee roasters downstate want to put an iced coffee into a can. Any liquid … would be applicable, especially in small batches.”

Right Brain plans to can three varieties and already has label approval for two: Willpower pale ale, Hawk Owl Amber Ale and CEO Stout, offering them in 16-oz. four-packs. As of June 1, Springsteen said, the company’s products will be available in about 80 percent of the Lower Peninsula. Having cans will only enhance distribution.

“Especially in northern Michigan, cans get me to the golf course, they get me to the beach, they get me to the woods,” Springsteen said. “They are lighter and less expensive on freight, they cool down faster, there’s no chance of oxidation or light penetration. They’re a pretty superior package.

“I’m totally, very excited,” he said.