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Tommyknocker Brewery will can beer again, twelve years after its first attempt

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It was a tale of two cities (towns, really) -- and of two breweries.

In Lyons, Oskar Blues owner Dale Katechis canned his first beer, Dale's Pale Ale, in 2002. At around the same time, Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs began canning Ornery Amber. But while Oskar Blues went on to create a revolution -- which it called the Canned Beer Apocalypse -- Tommyknocker shut its canning line down shortly after it started up.

See also: Mobile Canning will add a second canning line to help small breweries grow

"We didn't know they were doing it, and I don't think they knew we were doing it," says Tommyknocker head brewer Steve Indrehus. "We weren't trying to be the first. We were just trying to put beer in cans. They did it right, though. We did it wrong."

Now, twelve years later, Tommyknocker will give canning another shot.

The brewery, which was founded in 1994 as one of the state's craft pioneers, will enlist the help of Longmont's Mobile Canning to package a relatively new beer, IPA & A Half, in twelve-ounce cans beginning in May.

"We did in draft last year and it was so successful that we decided it would be our first offering in the new package," Indrehus explains. The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to double IPAs and triple IPAs, which are popular now. Tommyknocker, on the other hand, prefers to make "easier drinking" beers, he notes: "We're not an over-the-top brewery."

Tommyknocker, which just finished a $2 million expansion and plans to brew 14,000 barrels of beer in 2014, will start by canning 4,000 cases of IPA & A Half, and 1,500 cases per month after that. If sales go well, Indrehus will give Tommyknocker's history a nod by canning Ornery Amber again -- although that beer is now simply called Vienna-Style Amber. "If we do," he adds, "we'll probably stop bottling that one."

That was one of the lessons that Tommyknocker learned the first time around. "We made a bunch of mistakes," Indrehus says. For one, the brewery cannibalized the bottled version of Ornery Amber by making the cans.

But Tommyknocker also lacked the space at the time to increase production beyond its one-head filler, a machine it later sold.

"Back then, if you talked to anyone about canning, they thought you were an idiot," Indrehus adds. "But I've always been a fan of cans. Glass bottles have a place, but they are becoming dinosaurs. Cans have so many more benefits."

Indrehus calls cans the ABLE package, after a marketing plan that the brewery wanted to use in 2002 highlighting words with -able (or close to it) suffixes that worked for cans, including: pack-able, stack-able, recycle-able, port-able, crush-able, and quaff-able.

IPA & A Half will weigh in at 7.3 percent ABV and 87 IBUs. It is brewed with six kinds of hops: Chinook, Nugget, Summit, Bravo, Willamette and Sterling.

"We were right there with them. But it's okay," Indrehus says of Oskar Blues. "They own it. They deserve it."


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