Sun King’s Popular Event Proves Once Again That Yes, They CAN(vitational)
A beautiful day calls for beautiful beer. On Saturday we were lucky enough to have both at the Sun King CANvitational. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the Sun didn’t beat down relentlessly; it was the perfect combination of cheery weather and cheery people. I firmly believe that the great day made the people happier, and that made the beer taste even better. Indeed, the craft flavors and styles were great, but unlike with jockey-boxed festivals we could also see the cans that the beers came out of. The labels added a third layer of beauty and artistic flavor to the day.
Georgia Street and Pan Am Plaza were a great space to show off Indianapolis to visitors and allowed adequate space for the festival. Having held CANvitational at this location every year, the Sun King folks knew how to space the breweries, the port-a-lets, and the food. In all, the amenities were spot on, even the lines for the restrooms moved fairly fast. Walter even commented that I was in and out of the bathroom quickly – I just didn’t want to miss any time with the beer and the people.
The conversations at CANvitational were many and pleasant. We met the guys from Mind over Mash Brewing, soon to open in Brownsburg, and we had good conversations with Tall Tom and Mike Wilson, who have more UnTappd check-ins between them than the rest of us combined. On the personal side, we invited our brother-in-law Tim, my sister Cheryl, and their son Noah to join us for the afternoon, and this allowed us to get more opinions on styles and individual beers. I think most people were in the same frame of mind, rarely have I seen more group conversations than at CANvitational.
Keely from Three Wise Men was hanging out with Alex from Blind Owl. Ron Smith was sitting on a support block talking to several folks, and we got to talk to Josh Miller about his move from Flix to becoming the head brewer at Backstep. And all of this good talk was weaved into tasting some excellent beers. Sure, there was the obligatory over-indulger, but for the most part, this was a knowledgeable crowd (excepting the lady who asked if the Missouri Mule IPA from Piney River was the same as a Moscow Mule).
Speaking of Piney River from Bucyrus, MO, they had a dry hopped saison called Aux Arcs (say Ozarks) that was one of my favorite beers of the day. The breweries in general were stunning – Austin Beerworks, Snake River, Other Half (the day’s winner in Walter’s book), Marble Brewing, Cigar City, Creature Comforts, Lost Forty; there were too many good breweries to name them all.
Our favorite beers of the day ran the gamut from light to dark. Cigar City was unable to bring Marshall Zukov’s RIS, but they brought a crowler of the 2016 Hunahpu’s stout as a peace offering (I hope you had a VIP band so you could enjoy this beer). The Double White from Marble was a fantastic wit beer, while Brewery Vivant didn’t disappoint with their imperial saison, The Zaison. Walter favored the Deep Space DIPA from Half Acre and the double dry hopped Space Diamonds from Other Half (Brooklyn). One of my best tastes was the 70 Schilling Scottish Ale from Kenai River (Soldotna, Alaska), while brother-in-law Tim loved the Get Gingy With It Belgian Blonde from SanTan (Chandler, AZ).
The Seafarer Kolsch from Three Weavers (Inglewood, CA) was a great beer, but I couldn’t evaluate it fully because I couldn’t see through my cup. If I had one criticism of the festival it would be the VIP galvanized mug. They looked very cool and will last a long time as a memento (we gave one away because it was coveted), but for beers that are supposed to be clean (kolschs, pilsners, lagers, etc.) and for beers for which color is a large part (marzens, bocks, brown, porters, etc.), they were insufficient. It is a small thing, but a detail that stuck with me.
On the other end of the scale, it was nice that the cans were set out in front of the table so that we could see the art. This is a big deal because consumers often make purchases based on the label art, and the breweries invest quite a bit of time and money in developing the label art for their cans (and bottles). It does make a difference, as the number of booths devoted to label art at CBC this year (see this article) just proves. There were all kinds of can labels Saturday; decorated cans (printing on the cans themselves), shrink sleeve cans (printing on heat sensitive plastic), pressure sensitive labels (sticky labels), and a combination of the above (like Sun King’s decorated King’s reserve cans with beer specific pressure sensitive labels).
In anticipation of all this can art and technology I talked to Mark Alstott, Director of Marketing & Business Development for Mossberg and Company in South Bend. Mossberg supplies labeled cans to over 450 craft breweries around the US and many of the breweries who were at the CANvitational are their customers. Mossberg and Company specializes in shrink sleeve cans because it offers the brewers quite a range of sizes and numbers ordered. Mark told me that they had a recent order of just one layer of a palette of cans (380) so that a brewery could test a market for just over a $200 investment. With decorated cans, most companies require you to order a truckload of cans.
Mossberg’s use of shrink sleeves also allows for very rapid turn around time, just 7-10 days, while most other companies require 3-5 weeks for sleeves and 5-7 weeks for decorated cans. This is all part of Mossberg’s business philosophy; they are looking to help craft breweries (and other industries that can) to have the best chance to use these technologies without breaking their backs monetarily.
The attendees (all 3000 of them) seemed to enjoy seeing the can art, and this may be a detail that could be copied at other festivals – even if pouring draft from a jockey boxes, you could show the can or bottle of a beer you are pouring to provide added interest. It’s true that canned or bottled beers are often flagships – you know, the beers that are proven and pay the bills, but there are often innovative beers in cans as well. Those lactose beers from Other Half prove that. But in general, tasting a brewery’s flagships in cans gives you an idea of their complete bill of fare. If they do those standard styles well, then they probably do everything well. And this was evident Saturday, these were breweries that know what they are doing – good job on your invites Sun King. There are only a couple of festivals that I look forward to again as soon they are over – Funkfest, Denver Rare Beer Tasting, and now CANvitational.
Walter’s Words of Wisdom: Details make a festival – Sun King volunteers passing out beers in the Port-a-let line – brilliant (see the banner image for this story).
Walter’s Words of Wisdom 2.0: Details make a festival – Donating the can tabs to Ronald McDonald House – classy.