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Mobile company helps small breweries can beer

April 19, 2013
| By Pat Evans |
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Mobile company helps small breweries can beer
Michigan Mobile Canning plans to help many state breweries with packaging for their products. Its first client is Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City. Courtesy Michigan Mobile Canning

Unhappy in the corporate world, Andrew McLean wanted a way out, and like a lot of people in Michigan, he looked to the growing craft beer industry.

At first, it was just an idea stemming from an online National Public Radio article his brother-in-law showed him. "I never really planned to start a business — I didn't want to open a brewery like everyone else is," McLean said.

The article was on “canning factories on wheels” — mobile canning lines.

With craft breweries in abundance, and canning and bottling lines an expensive piece of capital, McLean realized this option for packaging could pay off big. He began calling and emailing the mobile canning lines featured in the news story, all of which were located out west. Finally, Colorado Mobile Canning answered his inquiry and said, "You're calling at a great time. We're starting an affiliate program."

They also told him there was another person in Michigan interested in the program. That other person was Scott Richards, who contacted McLean.

"We met at Bell's in Kalamazoo and realized we both wanted to go into it for the same reasons," McLean said. "We didn't just want to make money off the beer movement. We wanted to help the movement."

The affiliate program will help ease the pair’s new business, Michigan Mobile Canning, into existence and reduce the risks and mistakes often made early in a business’s life.

In June, McLean and Richards will travel to Colorado for a week-long training program before driving their truck back to Michigan. The box truck is only 15-by-20 feet, much of which is used to carry pallets of cans.

The company already has its first client lined up: Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City. Right Brain will require the mobile canning line every two weeks to help facilitate its statewide distribution.

Michigan Mobile Canning brings blank cans, 12 or 16 ounces, and sleeve wraps them with plastic labels before filling 25 to 30 cans a minute.

"We're a pretty polished product for a small batch," McLean said.

The company will be able to can for just about any brewery. A four-pack of 16-ounce cans is the same volume as a 64-ounce growler but can be sold for about $10.99 instead of $20 — a nicer walkout value for consumers.

"I'm hoping we can empower brewers again," he said. "It should help them make as much money as possible."

Bill White, owner of White Flame Brewing in Hudsonville, said the canning line will give customers an affordable way to have portable beer. Its Super G-IPA is in the final stages of the design process. "We feel that the public is accustomed to drinking beer from cans … and as the market shifts in that direction, we see this as a great opportunity without huge expense on our part,” White said.

McLean noted that, even though Michigan is a perfect community for canned craft beers, he's still surprised how quickly breweries and craft-beer drinkers are picking up on it. Founders Brewing Co. announced it will can its All Day IPA this summer, and Bell’s Brewery is acquiring a canning line.

"I thought the stigma against cans would be more, but people know now the benefits of cans over bottles."

Those benefits include: better for the beer because cans let in less light and air than bottles; better for the environment because they’re easily recycled; and better for transporting because they’re lighter in weight.

The mobile canning line can be used for more than just beer. McLean said companies in California have even started to can wine. And, of course, teas, sodas and coffee can be packaged in cans.

"We'll focus on beer, but we can do others," he said.

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