The canning line arrived yesterday at the Tallgrass Brewing Company in Manhattan, Kansas. The only problem? The craft brewer already has a bottling line.
"When we started the brewery, we were only doing draft. Nobody was asking, 'When are you going to start canning?' It was always, 'When are you going to start bottling?'" says Jeff Gill, who started Tallgrass in 2007 with his wife Tricia.
Last Friday in a "Canifesto," Gill announced that the four-year-old microbrewery would be making the switch from bottles to cans in May. The decision was part ecological, part economical and definitely representative of the unconventional style of a former environmental geologist turned brewer.
Last year, a customer called in to say that he had 20 cases of bottles in his garage. The customer lived too far away to drop them off and didn't have a local recycling option for the glass and cardboard.
"People tell us the boxes are so pretty, I feel bad throwing them away. Well, I feel bad you throwing them away too," said Gill.
With a planned expansion into Missouri and Nebraska, Gill knew that switching from bottles to cans would be a lot more difficult if Tallgrass continued to grow. So last fall, he began researching canned craft beers in the region.
"That's the kind of research I love," he says. "Drinking beer."
He researched canning operations at the Surly Brewing Company in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and the Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago. Once he was satisfied that the packaging didn't affect the beer inside, Gill decided to join their ranks.
"I think that stigma lasts about as long as until somebody tries their first craft beer in a can," said Gill.
Today is the last day that he expects to run the bottling line, to make sure there's enough supply to keep liquor store shelves full until the cans begin appearing in late May.
How do beer makers celebrate the final bottling run? "Some of the guys on the line might give a little cheer," said Gill.
Gill is going up to visit his supplier -- the Ball Corporation in Indianapolis, Indiana -- on May 10 to check the color and art on the first run of cans. Gill choose Tall Boys -- 16 oz. cans -- for all five of Tallgrass' current brews.
"I like the attitude of a pounder: It has an attitude that says we
don't apologize for making great beer in a good-looking can."
Tallgrass shipped draft beer to Missouri for the first time last Monday. Buffalo Sweat is on tap at the Flying Saucer in the Power & Light District. The brewer's Web site also has a comprehensive listing of bars carrying its beers on the Kansas side.
[Images courtesy of Tallgrass]