Meet the Can Van: Craft Beer Canning on Wheels

Jenn Coyle, Lindsey Herrema & Barley / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Picture this: You’re a small brewery that’s looking to expand to stores and markets all across your area. The thing is, you don’t have a bottling line and filling bombers by hand is more of a pain in the ass than you pictured. Sure it worked when you were home brewing, but we’re talking barrels of beer here. What can you do? Jenn Coyle and Lindsey Herrema might have the answer.

Jenn and Lindsey (and their mascot Barley) run a mobile canning line, dubbed the Can Van, which just got off the ground right here in the Bay Area. They just got back from picking up their custom trailer in Colorado and I managed to track them down at Devil’s Canyon Brewing in Belmont where they were doing their first run of cans.

The Can Van concept emerged from their final semester at Presidio Graduate School where they, along with several other classmates, worked on a solid business plan as a class exercise.  While conducting research on the idea, they received very enthusiastic responses from the breweries they called, such as “That’s a great idea! When can I hire you?”  Needless to say, they were on a roll before they even got started. After numerous presentations and some fundraising, the Can Van became a reality.

“Cans you say? I thought there had to be minimum orders of 100,000 for can production?”  That’s true. If a brewery wanted to use cans with a design that’s printed directly on the aluminum, then a minimum order of 100,000 is necessary. Luckily Jenn and Lindsey have found a way to label the cans themselves, as they would appear on beer bottles. This means no huge orders and no pallets of cans just sitting around for a year waiting to be used. They just order the amount of cans needed and buy the labels. The rest is beer history.

With so much beer to process I was curious about the speed of the canning line. I’ve heard many brewers talk about how slow a canning line is compared to a bottling line. When Jenn told me they could process 36 cans a minute, that lingering doubt went out the window. In fact, they’re able to package 30 barrels in a single day at full speed. I wonder if larger breweries will simply hire them full time to can year-round?

The Can Van will operate much like the mobile bottling line that many local breweries utilize. While they want to stay near the Bay Area, if there’s another region of brewers that want to can their beer then they’re totally down for traveling where there’s work to be done. In fact, they’ve been eyeing a trip up to Oregon to help out a few breweries there.

It’s pretty amazing what they’re doing, taking the whole canning trend and building a solid business around it. Right now they’re just getting started with their first client, but they could easily have more demand then they can manage, just like many breweries that can’t make enough beer to satisfy customers. It’s a great problem to have and I wish it on them.