Well That Was A F@Cking Disaster
As gyspy brewers we’ve found the solution to getting our beers into bottles or cans to be probably the biggest ongoing frustration we’ve experienced throughout our first 2 years. Only one of the breweries we work with has a bottling line, and they can only allow us to bottle into the bottle shape and size they use. So when we came across a company last year who offered a canning solution that seemed to tick all the boxes we were really excited. We spent a great deal of time playing with our branding to work with the cans shape and colour, and spent an even greater amount of time working with them to tie down the processes they would use during the time they were handling our beer to satisfy ourselves that the beer would be returned to us in as great a condition as it left us. When we finally sent the beer we also packaged half the batches into keg so we would be able to taste the exact same beer from tap as well as can to allow us to really appreciate the impact the canning process was having on our beers from a consumer perspective.
We sent both USPA and IPA and waited with not a little anticipation for the beer to be returned to us in cans. When they arrived we were like a bunch of kids at Christmas, until we opened the cases….and a great deal of disappointment set in. The labels on the cans were quite obviously bubbled and in some cases creased. A phone call to the team who packaged the beers eased our worry for a few days as they assured us that the bubbles would dissipate as the cans were moved and agitated, causing greater pressure in the can and forcing the bubbles out from under the labels. Sounded unlikely at the time, and even more so now looking back, but at the time I was just happy to have the possibility of a solution. We tasted the cans and honestly they tasted great. Next to the keg, there was no discernible difference. So it looked like we had some work to do on the labelling but the actual canning had been a success. We released the cans to market (having sold the entire runs before they landed back to us we had them in our warehouse for a total of 3 days) and awaited with excitement the feedback. Within 2 weeks though it became apparent that we had some issues with Diacetyl formation in a small percentage of the cans. This leads to a butterscotch type flavour and the dissipation of hop character. In hoppy pales, not great.
'Photos of us when tasting diacetyl.....'
The cause of this could be microbial infection or excess oxygen exposure during handling. We are unsure what the exact cause but as the problem only seemed to occur in a small percentage of the cans it is likely there was a problem with one of the filling heads, be it infection or oxygen exposure. If the cause was oxygen expose if would be pretty ironic considering that one of the benefits to us of cans was the presumed safety and protection from oxygen exposure! The canning company are not accepting responsibility, but can also tell us that the beer was not compromised when it arrived with them. As there is only a small proportion of the cans that have been affected we can only surmise that they had an issue with one of the filling heads, or there were some pauses during the filling process where some cans were allowed to sit without being sealed for longer than was ideal, allowing O2 pick up. We are pretty gutted about this as in 2 years of brewing we’ve never had any issues with diacetyl. I’d like to stress at this point that if anyone has had a can that has been affected please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll arrange for it to be replaced with our new bottles wherever you are. We are utterly committed to presenting great beer, fresh. In this instance we’ve allowed our ambition to get beer into cans to compromise that.
Lessons learned? We were really apprehensive about sending our beer out of our hands to allow someone else to package for us. We should have listened to our gut instinct and stuck with what we can control, which is keeping the beer in our own hands and within our own processes. Every experience, good and bad, is a lesson to move forward with. We’ve got big plans for 2017. The future is bright. The future is in Stubbies!