Des Moines area brewers eager to sell beer in cans
DES MOINES (AP) — The beer aisle in Des Moines grocery stores is about to look a lot more local.
Three central Iowa breweries are adding canning lines in the coming months, a move that will allow them to put their beer on shelves and in coolers around the region.
Firetrucker Brewery in Ankeny recently installed a canning line and plans to release cans of Brigade Ale and Burnout Brown starting Tuesday.
Confluence Brewing Co. plans to install a canning line as part of a larger expansion of its brewery on the south side of Des Moines. Cans of Des Moines IPA and Farmer John’s Multi-grain Ale should be available by the start of 2017.
Exile Brewing Co. is adding a canning line as part of an expansion that will more than triple the downtown brewery’s capacity. Exile plans to start producing 12- and 16-ounce cans of Hannah, a Bavarian wheat; Ruthie, a gold lager; and some seasonal beers next spring when the expansion is complete.
The Des Moines Register reports the three breweries will be the first in central Iowa to offer cans. Exile bottles some of its beer, and Confluence sells 32-ounce glass jugs of its beer at some stores.
But in large part, beer lovers have to belly up to a bar or visit the breweries themselves to drink locally made beer.
For any brewery, adding a packaging line is a significant milestone, said Dave Ropte, president of the Iowa Brewers Guild. Producing cans or bottles allows a brewery to capture a slice of the huge amount of money being spent on beer at gas stations, supermarkets and liquor stores.
“It’s a pretty big step,” Ropte said. “It really opens of a whole new set of opportunities to get your beer out into the marketplace and into consumers’ hands.”
Cans or bottles are also easier to sell to bars and restaurants. A mom-and-pop bar might not have space for a keg of Des Moines IPA on tap, but they might stock a bar with a couple of 12-packs.
“It’s just a more versatile package,” said Confluence co-founder and head brewer John Martin. “It’s going to allow quite a bit of volume growth right out of the gate, because it’s what people want.”
All three of the breweries said they plan to distribute cans initially around central Iowa. But if they want to expand and distribute outside the state, canning gives them the ability to do so, Ropte said.
For Confluence, which opened in 2012, the canning line has been years in the making.
“Everyone asked us from day one: ‘When can I buy a can?’” Martin said.
Located in a warehouse complex just south of Gray’s Lake, Confluence has leased two adjacent spaces. The $1 million expansion will increase the brewery’s space from about 11,000 square feet to 26,000 square feet.
As part of the expansion, Confluence also plans to add a 2,800-square-foot patio and a new bike storage area.
Exile plans to build a 3,600-square-foot addition on its building at 15th and Walnut streets. The addition will include space for fermentation tanks, warehousing and cold storage. Exile also plans to build a larger patio.
The expansion has owner R.J. Tursi dreaming big. Iowa lacks a large craft brewery with a regional following, like Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. or St. Paul’s Summit Brewing Co.
Tursi doesn’t expect Exile to rival those breweries anytime soon, but he said the expansion puts Exile a step closer to becoming a flagship brewery for the state.
“This is about taking the brewery to the next level and really just seeing how far we can take it,” he said.
Firetrucker, which operates out of an old Ankeny fire station, plans to hold a release party next week to celebrate its canned beer.
Producing canned beer raised some eyebrows, said co-owner and brewmaster Dan Heiderscheit. Many perceive bottled beer as higher quality and think cans are only for macro-brews like Bud Light and Coors.
“My friends say they think bottled beer would be better,” he said. “When I ask why, they don’t have any reasons or facts. But perception is reality.”
The craft beer industry is quickly adopting cans over bottles, said Ropte, who also owns 515 Brewing Co. in Clive. Several other Iowa companies are producing canned beer, including Toppling Goliath in Decorah, Kalona Brewing Co., NoCoast Beer Co. in Oskaloosa and Great River Brewery in Davenport.
Cans offer several advantages. Foremost is quality, brewers say. Cans are better than bottles at keeping out light and air, both of which can taint the flavor.
Shipping is also easier. Cans are more durable, lighter and easier to stack and store. And cans are more versatile. They’re better suited than glass for festivals, biking tailgates and boating.
That’s what motivated Exile to add cans in addition to its glass bottles.
“We’re missing all of those opportunities to have our product in (consumers’) hands, because bottles aren’t a viable option in those outdoor settings,” Tursi said.
For years, only the largest breweries could afford to can their beers. As craft beer has exploded in popularity, manufacturers have produced smaller-scale canning lines tailored to microbreweries, Ropte said.
He expects more small breweries to start canning. But that will bring challenges, too. Breweries will face more competition and will have to fight harder to get their beers in stores.
“Shelf space is passionately fought over by the distributors,” Ropte said. “The more brands there are, the harder it will be to find shelf space.”