First can line set up by UK craft brewer
London's Fourpure moves brand portfolio into cans
London’s innovative Fourpure Ltd is following the lead of American craft brewers, commissioning what may well be the first canning line operated by a craft brewer in the UK.
The brewery which began operations in the autumn of 2013 and is located on the Bermondsey Trading Estate in SE16, has acquired a compact 53 can per minute line from a Canadian supplier, Cask Brewing Systems of Calgary, Alberta.
Fourpure had aspirations to have their entire product range in cans from the outset but, according to managing director Daniel Lowe, installing a line at start-up was just a project too many.
“I do think it’s something that will become accepted here. We would like to be out in the front with this,” he said. “And as far as we are aware we are going to be the only craft brewer in the UK who’s going to have their entire core range in can in one go.”
Lowe cited several advantages for cans over bottles – improved beer stability, with protection from light and minimal oxygen pick-up; economic advantages in logistics with cans both lighter and easier to pack on a pallet; and the environmental plus of the infinite recyclability of aluminium.
And the brewery has gone to the expense of its own line in order to ensure product quality. As Lowe phased it, Fourpure wanted to make sure it could perform a full product analysis on its unfiltered range of beers before the expense of committing 20 or 50 hectolitres to a contact packaging run.
With Fourpure only needing to operate the line twice a week to satisfy its current requirements, there is potential to undertake contract packaging. It’s an opportunity that the brewery has decided to forego.
As Lowe points out, there would have been a need to put other people’s beer through Fourpure’s own equipment. This would expose the brewery to potential infections, bacteria and so forth that it hasn’t seen or managed to date.
“We sort of thought, ’oh blimey, we could use the line for other people’. But actually, on reflection, the risks we feel for us in this point of time are too high,” explained Lowe.
“We’re still continuing to do unfiltered, unpasteurised beer in those cans so it’s still a living product and therefore that’s that degree of risk. If we were putting down a pasteurising line then it might be an entirely different condition.”
The cans have “a really nice matt finish to give it a tactile approach,” noted Lowe. The available surface area allows for all of the educational information Fourpure wants to communicate to consumers – IBUs, EBC beer colour, calories, serving temperature and recommended glassware.
Lowe added, “We’ve played even further on the inspirational aspects. Cans have a lovely custom illustration which is embedded into the back substrate … showing what inspired the beer.”
An obstacle to having smaller brewers make use of cans is the minimum order normally required by manufacturers, somewhere around 250,000 units. Lowe said that he got a “great response” from Rexam, who reduced the minimum quantity required to 100,000 cans.
Further, the supplier is storing the cans on-site at its plant, and ships pallets of cans on just 24 hours’ notice from Fourpure as they are required for packaging.
Lowe said, “When I reached out and started talking to [Rexam] they were extremely excited about the sector. They have obviously done quite a bit of business in the US in the sector but nothing in the UK or Europe.
“We’re really well looked after and treated very well by Rexam who helped us to overcome that issue.”
Lowe estimated the total canning line investment, including ancillaries such as air compressors, and Anton Paar supplied lab equipment to test can seams and product quality, at £250,000.
Some Fourpure product will remain in sharing-sized bottles, 750ml, for existing customers and for some one-off brews where the print runs would be too short for cans.