Back in the last week of April, I visited the Ball Can Factory in Fairfield, California to watch the first beer cans for 21st Amendment Restaurant & Brewery being manufactured. Last week, I followed up on that story to watch the next part of the can’s journey to your hand. So I joined owner/brewer Shaun O’Sullivan and his assistant brewer, Mike D., early Thursday morning at the brewpub to watch as they went through the process of taking empty cans and turning them into a full six-pack of beer. I even had a chance to pitch in briefly, which was great fun. All of the equipment used for the canning came from Cask Brewing Systems of Calgary, Canada. So I’ll step you through the process in detail:
First, Shaun O’Sullivan pulls out empty cans ready to be filled. At this point they have no end on one side and are open on top.
The cans are then rinsed and sterilized.
The next step is to fill the cans using the filler pictured here being tested prior to being used.
The empty cans are then placed under the two nozzles to be filled.
Where the beer fills the can rather quickly, in no more than a few seconds.
They are slightly overfilled to insure the proper amount as the end is readied to be placed on the top of the can.
A tray full of metal ends sits in between the two machines.
The trick is to place an end on one side of the opening and then seat the end on the entire can.
The next machine in the process is the seamer.
Which rotates very fast and double seams the end to the can top.
The can is carefully placed in between the gap, which is relatively small (I knocked a couple of the ends off doing this which meant having to discard those cans).
Then a lever is pulled forward and down which closes the gap and begins rotating the can.
Which double seals the end to the can, making it airtight.
The last machine attaches the six-pack ring to create a six-pack of cans.
Red cones are set on top of six cans and a lever releases the cones, creating a gap so a plastic ring may be placed on top of the cones.
Then the lever pushes the rings over the cans and seals them in place.
Voilà, Mike D. shows off a finished six-pack!
Here’s a movie of the entire canning process that follows it from empty can to finished six-pack. But be warned, it’s a very large file (over 87 MB). You can either download the movie to your desktop or just click on the link to play it in your web browser (assuming your web browser has the quicktime plug-in installed).
Nico Frecia says
While Jackie Chan is misinformed and ignorant of the facts regarding today’s small canning systems, his commentary does give rise to an opportunity to discuss the facts and set the record straight.
Our two-head canning system is indeed manual and it does require labor. However, the terms “labor intensive” and “slow” are thoroughly relative ones — two people operating our canning line can produce 20 cases per hour of finished beer. That would be 150 cases of beer canned in an eight hour day. No bottling equipment we have used could come close to this volume and no system that could go any faster than this small canning system would fit into our tiny brewery. On your site, you show a video of the entire process and most viewers would agree it is surprisingly quick.
Regarding air levels, Jackie Chan’s comment, “The air-levels will not come close to that of a real canner (or even a good bottler)” is just plain completely wrong. The equipment manufacturer, Cask Brewing of Alberta, Canada, sent beer samples to the independent Siebel Laboratories in Chicago for testing. To quote the report’s summary of their findings:
“Four cans and bottles of the same beer were randomly chosen and sent to Siebel Laboratories in Chicago. Siebel test results revealed that there was no significant difference in O2 level between the bottled and canned product. Furthermore, the O2 levels were extremely low, measuring at under 0.125 PPM.”
The final comment from Technical Director Dennis Bryant sums it up:
“The result reported less than 1.0% of saturation”…”We do feel that this is an extremely low level of dissolved oxygen”
For the complete test results, go to
Our two-head filler uses a long tube fill, done under a CO2 blanket. This means that a CO2 tube reaches to the bottom of the can, filling it with CO2 gas just prior to fill. As CO2 is heavier than air, it forces all the air in the can up and out the opening. This evacuates all the air in the can, the can is filled at 30 degrees Fahrenheit to limit foaming, and then capped on foam so that there is little or no air under the seal. Most commercial can fillers are short tube DUMP fillers. There should be virtually no dissolved air pickup using long tube fillers. Dump fillers need elaborate evacuation methods, nitrogen drips etc to achieve airs as low as long tube versions. The equipment manufacturer has tested big canner beer packaged by one of the largest beer producers. Cans came in at over 3 ml air. They had a very large canning system. Big size and automation does not necessarily mean low airs.
And finally, regarding consistency, microbial contamination and carbonation levels. We brew the same Watermelon Wheat Beer and IPA for canning that we have been brewing for six years. Our process is sanitary from start to finish and we are confident that the beers will have a microbially stable shelf life. Our bright beer tanks are tested using a Zahm & Nagel CO2 tester and internal carbonation levels are adjusted to exactly where we want them prior to canning. The beer runs from the bright tank through a special glycol chiller and directly into the filler to ensure 30 degree Fahrenheit filling which eliminates foaming and guarantees our dissolved CO2 levels remain intact.
Jackie Chan’s final comments, “In a nutshell, these cans will have terrible shelf-stability and it will probably be a crapshoot every time you crack one open. A real canner is great for beer… but this ain’t that.” again, are simply ignorant of the facts. Twenty five small breweries across America and dozens in Canada have been canning beer with these small canning lines for years. If there were significant quality and consistency issues, these breweries would have long ago abandoned the can. On the contrary, canned beers are wining gold medals in blind taste tests everywhere. I’m not just talking about beer competitions (Caldera, Ashland, OR) but also about taste tests done in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The time for good beer in cans has arrived and we intend to be a leader in both the canning field and the battle against canning misinformation.
21st Amendment Brewery
James Donohue says
Congrats on the cans!! Mike D. looks like he needs to spend some time in a padded room!
Robert Coyle says
It’s very exciting to see micros getting into canning beers!
I am wondering if you can tell me about your process. Does yeast end up in the can or is your beer force-carbonated? Or do you naturally carbonate and keep the beer cold once tranferring into the bright tank to further settle out any remaining yeast at 30-32F? I am a serious home brewer in Melbourne and would love to take canned beer to the Victorian market once my brewery plans are complete. Where is is from and how much did your canning line cost you?
Thanks very much for your insight,
Joe McHugh says
Where can we find Jackie Chan’s commentary? I believe many of his concerns are legitimate and curious to see the bulk of his claims.