New Belgium Brewing announced this week that it will add a massive new canning line to its fifty-acre Fort Collins compound. When construction is complete, the brewery will have the ability to can around thirty percent of its total output.
But just because it can doesn't mean it will, says New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson. The brewery currently cans about 35,000 barrels of beer -- Fat Tire, Sunshine Wheat and Ranger IPA -- or roughly five percent of the total. By the end of next year, New Belgium will probably can about 10 percent of its total output, he says.
New Belgium's existing line can fill nine cans at at time, at a rate of sixty cans per minute. The new system, built by Germany's KHS, which also makes the brewery's bottling equipment, has a forty-head filler capable of doing 360 cans per minute.
It will also be able to handle sixteen-ounce tallboys, meaning New Belgium will join Eddyline Brewing in Buena Vista and Dolores River Brewing in Dolores as one of the first Colorado beer makers to put tallboys on the market in this state. "I can't see us ignoring that opportunity," Simpson says.
"When we first went into [canning], we were optimistic, but the business we're in is so capital-intensive that we just dipped our toe in it," he continues, adding that New Belgium began canning in 2008 with modest goals. "But demand has far exceeded supply...People can look at our model now and say, yes, the demand is there."
Much of that demand is seasonal, though, as people grab six-packs of cans in the spring and summer for trips to the river, the lake or the campgrounds. The new machine will give New Belgium the opportunity to significantly ramp up production at that time of year.
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New Belgium hasn't yet decided which beers it will add to the canned lineup, Simpson says, but it could be any of them, even some of the brewery's big, bolder beers, like 1554 and La Folie. The company will also consider making new beers that would "fit that package," he adds. "Every brand has been suggested at one time or another."
The brewery, the third largest craft brewer in the country, is also still looking for a location on the Eastern Seaboard on which to build a second brewery. New Belgium has six sites in mind and expects to have one nailed down by the end of 2011.