Wildrose Brewing Gets Back to Canning, This Time With a Bigger Plan

Wildrose Brewing Gets Back to Canning, This Time With a Bigger Plan

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Lots of breweries shut down brewing or greatly scaled back their operations during the Covid shutdown, and are now trying to get back to normal. They might have canned more beer for sale in the taproom and put much less in kegs, or they might have lowered their production to just their best selling beers and reduced their sales and sales people.

The thing is, getting back to normal sometimes isn’t good enough, sometimes you need to think bigger. Wildrose Brewing in Griffith is doing just that; they are looking to create a new normal that is a bigger, better normal. More canning, more production, more outside sales – it’s all in their plan.

Covid Changed Things. I talked to Dave DeJong of Wildrose Brewing about what changes took place with their beer during the shutdown. He said that package sales had never been a huge part of their model, selling mostly in house and to a couple of local package stores. Plus, they lost their sales guy during the shutdown, so they focused on doing package carryout in the taproom.

image credit: Wildrose Brewing

Canning and brewing were both reduced during the shutdown, but that doesn’t mean that the return to normalcy has to look the same. Dave told me, “The canning machine we had was a small manual filler that was labor-intensive and didn’t protect against oxygen exposure. Also, it was not practical for larger-scale package sales.” Going into the 4th quarter of 2020, the Covid experience is changing things for the better at Wildrose.

New Canning Machine. Wildrose is looking to can and sell more packaged beer in the future, so it was a good idea to get a canning line that will do the job better. Dave said, “The new canning line is the new Wild Goose Filling Evolution series, it is currently fitted with one fill head but is scalable to five giving us the ability to grow the packaging business without having to replace the line.”

There’s a lot more to canning beer than just putting beer in cans. The main enemies are waste and allowing oxygen to get to the beer. Oxygen ages beer and allows for the development of off flavors. Limiting the amount of oxygen in the beer (dissolved oxygen or DO) is a main factor in giving the beer a long shelf life when packaged. Limiting dissolved oxygen starts with how the beer is brewed and transferred, but the process of packaging always increases the chance of incorporating more DO in the sealed package.

To reduce DO, good canning lines have processes and equipment to reduce the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with the beer – things like low agitation, over fill, foam, purge, CO2 blanket, under-lid gassing, and lid control.

image credit: Wild Goose Filling

Pre-purge is the first step in a quality canning run. Getting the right amount of CO2 into the empty can helps keep oxygen out when the can is filled. But blowing too much or too little CO2 defeats the purpose, as does pre-purging too slowly or too rapidly. Next is the low agitation, moving the purged cans down the line to the beer filler with minimal bouncing will keep the purge CO2 in the can (CO2 is heavier than air).

During the fill, agitation of the beer and uptake of oxygen is a problem, but good canning systems keep a near laminar flow of beer into the can, again reducing waste, foaming, and air introduction. Some canning lines try to limit the amount of oxygen getting into the can by overfilling the can and then sliding the lid on over the beer, but this increases waste and foaming (sources of DO). Good systems are adjustable for just the right fill level and have mechanisms to pull off the large bubbles of foam so that they are not trapped under the lid.

Post-purge is when CO2 is blown over the filled cans as they are moved toward the lidding portion of the line and as the lid is dropped on the can (under-lid gassing). Having a tunnel of CO2 will keep any oxygen from entering the system and getting trapped under the lid. Finally, good lid control means that the lid is designed to seal on the can even before the seamer closes the package completely. You had no idea what it takes to keep a good beer good while it sits on the shelf waiting for you to buy and drink it. The Evoulytion series from Wild Goose takes all these factors into account.

image credit: Wildrose Brewing

In addition to maintaining beer quality, selling packaged beer has a lot to do with visual appeal. Dave told me, “People have really liked our label art and we only had 3 branded labels and one generic so we are going to get a lot more labels done. We get the labels done by Rob and Carla from Ayota Illustration. They do comic book, zombie, horror type illustration stuff.”

He added, “When we were looking to get our first label done we had conversations with several artists and had trouble finding someone that actually produced something. Many people only did art, they couldn’t do the print-ready part. Rob sent us an email that said he liked the limited artwork we had out and the look of the brewpub. He was a craft beer fan and said he’d like to do work for us. I said sure take a stab at it, gave him a description of Big Sexy and some elements I would like to see in the design. A week later we had a rough sketch of the Big Sexy label. I approved the sketch and a week or so later we had a print-ready file. Now when I have work to do on a new label I just let him run with it. What I really appreciate is every time he designs a label he does a reinterpretation of the original three skull logo.”

Selling More Packaged Beer. If Wildrose is going to can more beer, it would be good if they have places to sell it. To that end, they have hired a new sales person. “We just hired a good beer guy who will be handling our outside sales and marketing, he has been in the beer game for a while and has contacts locally as well as Fort Wayne, South Bend and Indy. We’ll be doing self distribution, so there will be lots of sales calls and deliveries in his future.”

Making more Beer. If Wildrose is going to sell a lot more packaged beer, they’re going to need to make more too, just to keep the brewpub patrons happy and still have enough beer to send to their outside accounts. That means they need more tanks and such. Luckily, they’ve acquired just that.

The brewpub and patio are wildly popular at Wildrose Brewing. image credit: Wildrose Brewing

Dave said, “We got a bunch of items from Pokro – additional fermenting and conditioning capacity, a bigger glycol system to better control fermentation temperature and cool the finished beer to temps best for our new packaging solution, really cold beer cans much better.”

But making more beer isn’t just about volume. Wildrose is looking to expand their repertoire of beer as well. More canning means that people are going to want to see cans changing in the stores; more seasonal beers not just the standards. This is a difficult balance to maintain – the standards are your standards because people buy a ton of them. But it’s just as important to keep people interested by offering new styles, new riffs on established beers, and something weird every once in a while. This is what Dave means when he says, “We are going to make some adjustments to our beer line up including some different beer styles.”

Conclusion. Right now the attention may be on canning and sending beer out the door, but Dave wants people to know that the brewpub is still the focus and heart of Wildrose Brewing. He told me, “The taproom and patio have been well received and will still be our focus and now we are excited to grow the business by getting our stuff deeper in the state than a five-mile radius of Griffith.” Walter and I do love visiting, but it certainly would be nice to get some Theze Nutz or Mornin’ James closer to home.

Banner image credit: Wildrose Brewing and Rob Ayotte (@robayotte, @ayotaillustration)

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