As a brewing consultant one subject which comes up a lot, is small scale canning for breweries. See the email below I got this week, which is a typical email, I get regarding canning machines.
The ability to package beer for off-site consumption for smaller breweries, became key to survival for many, with the advent of Covid.
As brewpubs, bars and restaurants closed due to lockdowns, many breweries saw zero monthly sales overnight. Survival came in the form of “curbside pick-up” and the ability to sell beer online. Plus, ways for breweries to get beer into packaging, then into the hands of drinkers.
Small Scale Canning for Breweries – Speed of Filling
Bottles, especially longer necked bottles, often have an opening less than one-inch in diameter. So, when you fill these bottles, you need to do so slowly. Otherwise, you may experience excess foaming and CO2 breakout.
Cans have a bigger aperture so; the filling tube can be larger (on a canning machine). Meaning you can fill cans more quickly. A one-head canning line can fill 4 to 500 cans per hour.
To do the same volume with a bottling line, you’d need 3 or 4 heads. Therefore, a bottling line requires more floor space.
Furthermore, with 4 heads; a bottling line usually has a rotary filling head. A rotary filling head is required, because it takes a full rotation to fill the bottle.
Canning lines have straight conveyor belts and quick filling. So, over all a canning line takes up less space and not as complicated, when it comes to filling portion of the machine.
Improved Beer Quality – Small Scale Canning for Breweries
Have you ever drunk a beer which tasted like “burned rubber”, “cat musk” or simply “musty”? It was from a bottle, right? Yeah, well this beer would of been “light struck”. In bottles, light can affect beer, as it passes through the glass.
Cans don’t allow light through them (as they are made of aluminum), the light can’t react with the beer and “skunk” it. Furthermore, if the cap from a bottle is not seated and/or crowned correctly, oxygen can “seep” into the beer and ruin it.
If you’ve ever had beer which tastes like wet cardboard, then you’ve experienced oxidized beer.
As an industry, craft brewing is becoming more aware of it’s need to be “greener”. From amount of water used, to how the beer is packaged and delivered. Beer cans (made of aluminum) can be endlessly recycled.
Furthermore, cans can be crushed to take up less space. The cans don’t smash like bottles so, are safer too. Lastly cans (aluminum) are lighter than glass so, cheaper to transport as well (empty and full).
So, for a smaller-scale brewery, canning makes a lot of sense. The next question becomes, how do you find the right canning line for you?
DO (Dissolved Oxygen) Numbers – Small Scale Canning for Breweries
When it comes to small scale canning lines for breweries, DO (dissolved oxygen) is the main number you need to look out for. Ideally you want packaged DO numbers below 50ppb (parts per billion) for your beer. With numbers below 30 (and closer 20) recommended.
As we said before, if beer becomes oxidized the, it’ll taste like wet cardboard…which is less than ideal. Furthermore, when beer is oxidized, it becomes darker too.
Throughout the brewing process you need to manage oxygen pickup. However, when you package beer, it becomes crucial to minimize oxygen pickup. So, customers can experience the beer, the way you intended it.
Where to Measure for DO
You need to measure DO from several places, to have reference points of where DO pickup originates from:
- From the tank (be it unitank or brite beer tank)
- The beer manifold before the filler head (if possible)
- Shaken can
- Unshaken can
These reference points allow you to understand where DO is being introduced. They also shine a light on issues when they appear so, they can be addressed quickly.
DO and Getting Testimonials – Small Scale Canning Lines for Breweries
When I help clients source a canning line, getting reliable testimonials is key. From people who’ve used the machine for extended use, who are reliable.
As I’ve been brewery consulting for some time, I’ve several machines I recommend. I know they work, after speaking with people in my network. With feedback on DO numbers being key.
If a company can’t provide DO pickup, with proof. I’ll attempt to get the numbers from previous clients. Not all breweries at the smaller scale have DO readers. So, not all previous clients can provide those figures.
However, before buying machine you need to lock in the DO numbers from using the machine. You need to find clients who have used the machine plus, have historical data regarding DO pickup.
Otherwise, you’ll have high DO numbers AND beer tasting like wet cardboard!
Questions to ask:
- You need to ask, what type of DO meter they use?
- How often is the DO meter calibrated?
- Are DO numbers consistent when running the machine?
- What are the main areas to be concerned about, regarding DO pickup and the canning line?
- How sturdy is the canning machine? Does it need regular maintenance?
- What preventative maintenance can be done, to keep the machine running smoothly?
- How many people do you need to run the machine?
- What is the real-world figure of how many cans the machine package in one hour?
- How long does it take to set up and close down/clean the machine?
There are more questions you can ask. But I’ll have an idea, of how good the machine is, when these questions are answered.
Every machine is different, but most of the principles to run them are the same. The above questions are universal to most small-scale canning machines.
Canning Lines from China – Small Scale Canning Lines for Breweries
So, as many people know I’m based in China, they often about sourcing a cheap line from here. Honestly for the most part, I tell my customers don’t go Chinese for your small-scale canning line.
It all comes down to those DO numbers I spoke about earlier. Look at the picture below, one brewer with a Chinese made machine saw DO numbers up to 3000ppb!
Now when it comes to larger canning lines, where the canning line is running at 12,000+ cans per hour. China can supply machines with good DO numbers. With smaller machines there isn’t really a market for them. So, the technology isn’t in place.
However, there is one Chinese machine I recommend. It does 400 cans per hours and is competitively priced. I need to check the latest price, but it was around 100,000 RMB (US$ 15,750) for the last client I know who bought one.
The Small Canning Line I Recommend from China
I answered the original email, I shared at the start of this post…
I answered with the following reply:
” There’s only one canning line I can recommend which is very small and available from China. It’s does roughly 400 cans per hour and costs around 100,000 Chinese RMB.
I know a few brewers who use it here in China, and a happy with it. As your based in ……., there are a few issues:
1. Clearly installation is difficult as they can’t send an engineer to help you set it up.
The machine can be set up to work for you, before it leaves for your brewery. You’ll need to send them sample cans to China to help with setup.
They can also help with setup, via video conferencing.
2. You need to get the beer very cold for it to work. Otherwise, there are foaming issues. So, you’ll need to use a small heat exchanger close to the machine.
The company making it can provide one. Also, if the volumes of CO2 are too high, the machine can have trouble canning the beer. Ideally the beer should be at 2.5 volumes or below.
Otherwise, it’s a machine with low O2 pick up. It’s been tested in trials with an Anton Parr CboxQ. If this seems like a machine you might be interested in, then let me know, I can make email introductions to the company.”
3. Here’s a quote from a brew-master you has had this machine for over year:
The machine is good, I feel, we make about 450 cans per hour, the service is good, we always have direct feedback from the technician.
We run the beer through a heat-X and fill around -0.5 degrees C, so not so much foaming, could be an O2 problem down the road, but our beers stay cold and sold fast , so that should be fine.
So at this temperature we have all valves complete open, so if we want more foaming we should carbonate the beer higher. So I think the machine works well.Brewmaster who I spoke to about the machine
As you can see their foam cap isn’t ideal. However, as the brew himself says it because they are filling at -0.5C. If the beer was a little warmer then it’ll have a better foam cap. So, in theory provide better DO numbers.
Like with many canning lines, this machine and how it operates is dependent on the user. As we’ve said in real world tests it’s given acceptable DO numbers.
Also, please note: I’ve got the updated pricing on the machine (as of 12/19/2021)…
|Canning System||FBCS1-1||US$ 16,875|
|Rotary Infeed Table (Optional)||RIT-50||US$ 2,648|
|Total Price (FOB Tsingtao Port)||$US 19,523|
As you can see there are a few issues, the company has worked hard to make this machine work better over time. I recommend it because people I trust and respect are using the machine and like it.
For a small brewery or brewpub looking to do a limited number of canned beers, it’s a great solution. If you want to learn more about this machine please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s some more handy info on the machine:
|Size (W*L*H)||1.20 X 0.73 X 1.7 M|
|Packing Size （L*W*H)||1.45 X 1.0 X 1.95 M|
|Capacity||400 to 450 cans per hour|
|Power||Single Phase 110V 50Hz is default|
|Beer Source Requirements||Pressure – 22 PSI + Connection 1.5-inch tri-clamp|
|CO2 (CO2 regulator)||58-65 PSI (from plant system connected to canning|
system with 3/8“OD barbed fitting)
|Compressed Air||87-102 psi|
|Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Numbers||50ppb officially on documentation (below 30ppb in trials)|
Small Scale Canning Lines for Breweries – Conclusions
As I say in many of my articles, research is key, when sourcing brewing equipment. You can do your own, asking for testimonials from previous clients.
- How many cans per hour the machine does?
- What are the DO numbers?
- How many people are needed to run the machine?
Are the three main questions I like to ask first, to determine if the machine is right for a client. As I say over time, I’ve a list of machines I recommend depending on the needs of the client brewery.
If you require some assistance when it comes to a canning machine, sourcing other brewing equipment or other brewery assistance. Please, feel free to reach out. My email address is:
Or you scan one of the QR codes below to add me to your preferred network and message me there directly.
Thanks for reading my post, I hope it was informative. If you have any feedback or follow-up questions, again feel free to get in touch.