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My day at the cannery — Anything for the love of good beer

By Paul Viau | Jul 02, 2014
Photo by: Paul Viau I 'CAN' HARDLY WAIT — More and more craft brewers are putting their beer into convenient, portable 'cans'

I know the title of this column may sound a little fishy, but hang in there — by the time you read about four paragraphs, you (like me) will be even more hooked on craft beer.

It seems, these days, much of the craft beer industry is jumping on the beerwagon and putting their finest lagers, ales and stouts into the most humbling of containers — aluminum cans.

If you read my “All in good spirits” column last week on the Buncombe side of The Guide, you know why. Aluminum cans are ‘greener’ than bottles. Aluminum is one of the most readily recycled substances. Aluminum cans are also lighter and more easily distributed and transported, so they easily find their way into picnic baskets, golf carts, ball games and now, beer festivals.

This weekend Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard is celebrating this phenomenon July 5, at its first-ever North Carolina Burning Can Beer Fest.

Oskar Blues Brewery was the first craft brewery to adopt a real ‘can-do’ attitude, and they have celebrated their achievement for years in Lyons, Colorado — just a few short miles from my alma mater, “Dear old C.U.”

I remember my surprise and delight at Asheville’s Brewgrass festival five years ago, when Oskar Blues surprised everyone in attendance by pouring samples of their beer from cans. I still have a souvenir Dale’s Pale Ale can on display in our basement porch ‘Gardeners Lounge.’

Anyway (Get to the point, Paul!) the only way local, North Carolina brewers can participate in Brevard’s Burning Can Beer Fest, is to bring their beer in cans. Yes, cans are the only way beer will seen and tasted beer at Burning Can Beer Fest, and that has area brewers scrambling.

Lucky for them, there is a wonderfully inventive start-up company in WNC, aptly named Land of the Sky Mobile Canning. They bring a portable canning operation directly to the brewers, many of whom are getting their ‘first taste’ of craft beer in cans.

I had an opportunity to see the mobile canning operation in action when I hitched a ride on the BearWaters beer bus with Kevin Sandefur and the BearWaters Brewing Company team for a field trip. The destination was Altamont Brewing Company in Asheville.

BearWaters has collaborated with Altamont on a couple different beers, and Altamont owner, Gordon Kear, kindly made his facilities available for BearWaters to brew, and now put into nifty little cans —a large batch of Sliding Rock Ale.

I got to see the mobile canning team arrive in their fitted van, set-up the canning line (complete with a can feeder that strongly resembles DNA’s double-helix,) then connect to the large kettle of Sliding Rock Ale and finally, work with BearWaters head brewer, Greg Kidd, to ‘dial in’ the right amount of carbonation.

Because of the space limitations and the mobile canning team’s hectic schedule, BearWaters canned the beer without labels. They’ll be applied when Land of the Sky Mobile Canning returns next week.

Somehow, I got roped into stacking, packing and later cracking (open) another first for BearWaters — a can of Sliding Rock Ale.

Somehow, we found room to fit 77-plus cases of unlabeled Sliding Rock Ale on  BearWaters 1974 VW Bus for the uneventful trip back to Waynesville.

Did you know? — 80 cases of beer weighs nearly a ton, and can really lower the profile of the otherwise boxy VW bus. (We slowed to under 40 mph on the I-40 uphill grade to Canton.)

BTW, the canning team’s next gig was in Raleigh, no doubt another entry in N.C’s Burning Can Beer Fest. They will be headed back our way to label the BearWaters beer and both can and label Frog Level Brewing Company’s Salamander Slam for the festival. Land of the Sky Mobile Canning is also canning 1,000 cans of water, live at Burning Can Beer Fest — But I plan to partake mostly of great, craft beer.

That being said, Frog Level Brewing is slamming their IPA (my favorite, Salamander Slam) into four-packs of 16-oz cans for distribution throughout North and South Carolina. No doubt, I will be including a few cans on upcoming outings.

BearWaters is ‘keeping it local’ and will sell six-packs at their tasting room after returning (and unwinding) from the Burning Man Beer Fest. Get a few six-packs to go — Sliding Rock Ale is a wonderfully light and refreshing beer, perfect for hot, summer days. It won a gold medal at the 2013 Carolina Championship of Beers, aka Hickory Hops. Not too shabby.

Finally, as far as I know, tickets for Burning Man Beer Fest, June 5, are still available.

For information, visit the Oskar Blues website.

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