Alexis Foreman was supposed to be in San Antonio, Texas, last week at the annual Craft Brewers Conference and trade show. The head of Boulder’s Wild Goose Filling planned to unveil a new canning machine called the Gosling. Made for small breweries, the machine takes up about as much space as a stove and can fill twelve cans per minute.
But when the trade show was canceled, Foreman sold his floor model to Denver’s Ratio Beerworks and ramped up production of the Gosling. Then he moved his prototype machine to nearby Odd13 Brewing, where small breweries can now bring beer by the keg to quickly fill cans.
Welcome to the #candemic, a rush by breweries all over the country to find ways to package and sell beer to go, since most are no longer allowed to open their taprooms to the public until officials deem it safe.
“This wasn’t the plan,” Foreman says with a laugh. But fast, cost-effective canning is what was needed. In fact, Wild Goose is using the money it would have spent on hotel rooms and expenses at the Craft Brewers Conference to donate cans to small breweries that bring kegs to Odd13.
“To maintain social distancing and to be safe about it, they bring their kegs in and we give them a basic walk-through on the machine, and then they can the beer themselves," Foreman explains. "I can’t believe how much Odd13 and [head brewer] Nicole Reiman have done to make this work.
"We wouldn't be able to do it without that kind of support," he adds. So far, Strange Craft Beer Company in Denver and Peak View Brewing in Greenwood Village have turned kegs into cans for sale at their taprooms, and several other breweries are lined up to do the same once they get through the regulatory paperwork.
In the meantime, Wild Goose, which made its first canning line in 2011 for Upslope Brewing and merged with the Meheen bottling company in 2016, is pushing ahead with its rollout of the Gosling, which it describes as a "fully automated, entry-level canning" machine.
“We’ve had a tremendous response…full production is ramping up right now,” Foreman says, adding that the idea began about a year ago. “We had been looking at the way people are growing, at the way craft beverage is growing. People are using Crowlers to do full packaging runs, but that is not what they are designed for.”
So Wild Goose engineered a smaller canning line that's simple enough for breweries to set up themselves. The result is a polished-looking unit that can almost sit on a bar top.
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For Ratio Beerworks, which had been looking for a way to expand production and packaging capabilities before the pandemic, the Gosling is a way to “pivot,” says brewery owner Jason zumBrunnen. “We’re not exactly sure what it means for after Covid-19. But hopefully it is a transition as we get a bigger place."
That is, “as long as we’re able to reopen and rebuild,” he adds. Like many Colorado breweries, Ratio was forced to furlough a good portion of its staff a few weeks ago and is now offering beer to go only. The first beer it canned on the Gosling was Sparks Fly Juicy IPA, which was released last week.
Although Wild Goose is focused on shipping more units, Foreman is also hoping to set up a second packaging site like the one at Odd13, using another prototype model. If that happens, the machine will allow a variety of small breweries to get some beers into cans that otherwise might not have seen the light of day during the restaurant, bar and brewery shutdown. "These are really cool beers," Foreman says. "And now the public can have them."