Crabtree Brewing rolls out tallboys: no cans, no canning line, no problem

Crabtree Brewing has never canned its beers and doesn't own a canning line; its owner, Jeff Crabtree, doesn't even think craft beer belongs in a can. Nevertheless, the Greeley brewery's Eclipse black IPA will probably become the first Colorado beer to be packaged in sixteen-ounce cans.

"I have mixed feelings about cans. I have a hard time with them," says Crabtree, who founded his namesake brewery in 2006. "That's my own two cents. But the consumer is saying they want it in a can, and I want them to be happy."

He also likes to change things up. "We are a unique little brewery and we like doing things our own way and at our own speed," explains Crabtree, who already sells his beers in twelve-ounce, 22-ounce and 750 ml bottles. "Variety is important -- and imperative. If people don't have variety, they get bored. I get bored real easily."

Crabtree will keep himself from getting bored with the help of Mobile Canning LLC, a new Longmont-based company that owns a canning line and plans to take it on the road to help small brewers who want to can their beer without investing in their own equipment.

"I personally would have never canned. We have invested so much in bottling lines that it wasn't an option," Crabtree says. "I jumped on the Mobile Canning side, though, because the barriers to entry are so minuscule. It's a wonderful model for smaller breweries."

In other words, Crabtree doesn't need any equipment, doesn't have to train his staff and doesn't have to buy his own inventory of cans. All he has to do is provide Mobile Canning with the hookups it needs at the brewery. He plans to have Mobile over once a week in order to produce about 500 cases a month of Eclipse. (The beer was previously known as Syzyygy, but Crabtree changed the name to make it easier.) Eclipse in cans should be available sometime in the next few weeks.

In January or February, Crabtree will also start canning a similar quantity of its Oatmeal Stout, which just grabbed a silver medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. Both beers will be distributed throughout Colorado, as well as in Kansas and Nebraska.

Beyond making his beer available, there's another benefit to this deal, Crabtree points out: helping another business get its start. "It's a perfect relationship," he says. "They can the beer and I help them grow and be successful."

Oskar Blues and New Belgium both plan to start using sixteen-ounce tallboys early next year; both breweries are purchasing massive new canning lines.

Crabtree is earning a name for its unusual sales and marketing strategies. In May, Crabtree used its German decoction brewing system to make a German-style sour wheat called Berliner Weisse Ale specifically for Euclid Hall in Denver.

It went over so well that Crabtree bottled the beer and created a label that featured a massive QR code as its main element. That way, anyone who is thinking about buying the beer, or anyone who is already drinking it, could scan it and go directly to a video message from the brewer.

The Berliner Weisse won a gold medal this year at GABF.

What will Crabtree do next? We'll have to wait and see.

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