31 Aug A Canned-did Interview with Todd Stone of Junk Ditch Brewing on the Importance of Canning and Creativity during Covid
Junk Ditch Brewing in Fort Wayne was caught in the lockdown earlier this year just as everyone else was. Carry out food and beer alone weren’t going to cut it in trying to stay afloat, so other mechanisms had to be investigated. The owners and head brewer Todd Stone brainstormed and kept coming up against the same problem, how to produce a new revenue stream without first investing a ton of money they didn’t have at the time?
Todd told me that Junk Ditch had a good amount of beer on hand as the shutdown began, but then they had no way to sell it. Canning was obvious way to go, as many breweries were also delving into package beer for sale form the restaurant. But again, that was going to take a big investment to do it efficiently. As my PhD mentor used to say when I complained that I needed a new piece of equipment, “It all comes down to whether you have too much time or too much money.”
Junk Ditch had time and they had beer, what they didn’t have was a canning line. Todd said, “Luckily 2Toms Brewing, one of our fellow Fort Wayne breweries, was selling some canning equipment – a two head filler, an Oktober can seamer, and about a half pallet of 12 ounce cans.” The price was right, but the problem was that it is an inefficient method of canning, two cans at a time and lots of hands on manipulation.
The learning curve was steep with the small canning line, but like they said, they had time to work it all out. Todd told me that they started with six packs of 12 ounce cans being sold at their Food Truck Rallies. “The Food Truck Rallies are on the first and third Tuesdays of every month, from spring to fall. Normally at the Truck Rallies we have full bar service so you can order a beer to take outside while you stand in line at a truck or chill on the green space and listen to the band or DJ play music. It is a pretty chill atmosphere. We still held rallies, but they were carryout events where you can stop by and grab food from your favorite food truck – and buy some canned beer.”
He added, “We started off with generic labels with room to write down beer names and information in sharpie to hold us over until we had something more permanent. Some of our initial releases were Bessie (Blackberry Gose), Viceroy (Maibock), Citrasanct IPA (All Citra, as the name implies), and Main Street Premium (Czech Pilsner). Now we’ve moved on to selling in the 4-pack of pints format.”
With more experience and thought, their label designs became more detailed and Junk Ditch found a way to involve Fort Wayne artists. “We are trying to tap the talent of local artists for our cans. Our photographer Danielle Doepke (@danielledoepke) took the photograph that appears on the Main Street Premium label, which was designed by Kaylie Snodgrass from Rough Draft Co. Kaylie also did the artwork for Spectacular Draculas, our Hazy IPA brewed with Michigan grown Cashmere and German Mandarina Bavaria hops. Shaun Malinowski from Good Stuff Design Company used his existing design from a previously released Tie-Dyed tank top for Mallow Rouge, our hibiscus Saison, to decorate the can label.“
Matt Plett (@datmattmatt), who designed a couple of labels for core beers and will be reworking them soon, also helped with the layout and lettering for an upcoming release of a new beer, Hyper Local Pale Ale. Set for release on September 5th, Todd says, “This beer label will feature artwork from three different artists (@blacklightmediafw). Proceeds from the sales of Hyper Local Pale Ale will be donated to Hyper Local Impact’s (https://www.hyperlocalimpact.com/) Family & Friends fund, which raises money to invest in BIPOC led businesses and nonprofits in Southeast Fort Wayne. The release will be extremely limited to Junk Ditch and a few partner locations around Fort Wayne.”
They went from no cans and no canning line to a labor intensive procedure for canning and sales in the taproom in a very short time. It was something they had to do at the time, but now they look upon the experience as fortuitous, as they will have this base as they move forward. Even better, Junk Ditch has learn quickly about how to take advantage of the situation, from some generic labels to designing decorative labels, and from selling cans with almost no marketing to pairing them with great events and having charity-based can release parties.
One of the events that work well with Junk Ditch canned beer is the weekly pick ups for the Hawkins Family Farm CSA (community supported agriculture). Todd told me, “CSA is a membership program where members receive fully customizable farm share boxes, either weekly or every other week. It’s a really neat program that allows its members to receive freshly harvested and high quality foods, which don’t just include produce, but also local meat, eggs, and cheese. I am personally a member and find it challenging to use everything we get for the next pickup. We also sell our canned beer options in the warehouse during CSA pickup, every Thursday from 5 to 8pm.”
Yes, the restaurant is back open for dine in seating or on the patio, but the previous shutdown has resulted in Junk Ditch Brewing becoming a more finely tuned machine, with new ways of connecting to both patrons and the community. Visit them often, and follow them on Instagram (@junkditchbrewing) to see more of the new labels as they become available. As always, I heartily suggest the fried mushroom and rice balls (aranchini), and the maibock (Viceroy) was great when I was there last week.