Yes, I Can
A novice gets his feet wet (literally) on the canning line.
Everyone knows how to get beer out of a can. But getting beer into a can? That’s a whole can
Curious about the process, I arranged a visit to canning day at New
Jersey Beer Company in North Bergen,
winner of New Jersey Monthly’s ;;;;
Craft Beer Bracket showdown. On this
day, they are canning Pit Boss, a double
IPA that packs a real punch at ;. ; percent alcohol by volume.
Like many small breweries, New
Jersey Beer Co. doesn’t have its own
canning machine. Instead, it contracts
with Tripod Mobile Canning, a Moun-
tainside-based company that cans for
brewers in New Jersey, New York and
Pennsylvania. Robbie Kurz, who owns
the company with son Jason, and his
team of three had just finished setting
up their equipment when I arrived.
Having hoped to actually work on
the line, I’m told that, alas, all I can do
is watch. The canning line starts up
slowly, eventually building to a speed
of ;; cans per minute. For bigger jobs,
they can push it to ;;.
The action starts on the shaker table,
a raised platform crowded rim to rim
with topless aluminum cans. The tilt of
the platform feeds the cans one by one
into an ;-foot-long “twist rinse” chute
on their way to the filler machine. Halfway down, the twisting chute inverts
the cans, sprays them with sanitizing
water, flips them upright again, and
sends them on to the filler.
At the filler, things get technical. The
cans move on a narrow conveyor belt
to the first station, where tubes fill the
cans with CO; to clear them of oxygen.
Next, the cans pass under the filler
heads, teflon tubes that descend into
the cans five at a time, dispensing the
fresh brew. A thin pillow of foam appears at the top of each loaded can.
As the cans trundle by, lead operator Sam Schar; checks a monitor and
twists tiny dials to make sure the cans
want more beer?” he asks. Schar; grabs
a can o; the line and o;ers me a taste.
Can tops clatter down a tall pipe
and are dispensed onto the top of each
passing can. The next station grabs each
can and spins it onto the seamer, which
folds the top under the lip of the can. The
sealed cans then move through a washer,
where a spray of water removes any
stickiness. Occasionally, a can is crushed
in the seamer. Beer splashes to the floor.
Pretty soon, my shoes are soaked with
Pit Boss. “If you’re around here,” says
Kurz, “you’re going to get wet.”
But wait—a can has toppled on the
conveyor belt. I reach in to set it right,
but another falls. And another. I try
holding back the line, but this just jams
the chute. More cans are tumbling.
Schar; hits the emergency button
and everything stops. “This is why I have
a job,” he says as he sets things right. A
second operator, Sasha Damjanovic,
straightens the cans in the chute. “When
one thing goes wrong,” he observes, “it’s
like a domino e;ect.” In a matter of moments, the cans are moving along again. I
step aside, hands to myself.
Schar; used to work on a printing
In the end, ;; cases of Pit Boss are
press at the Wall Street Journal. “Now,”
he says, “I’m delivering good news: The
market is down, have some beer.”
The rest of the process is pretty
prosaic. Once the cans go through the
washer, they roll down a makeshift
ramp. Kurz places them on another
conveyor belt on their way to the label-
ing machine. At the end of that line, the
cans are manually loaded into boxes, ;;
to a case.
ready to go to market. I’m ready to
change my socks and shoes.