Red Lodge Ales moves over to cans as industry template changes

Thursday, April 25, 2019
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Photo by Alastair Baker
Four pallets of 32,676 aluminum cans tower over Sam Hoffmann, owner of Red Lodge Ales. The company has replaced it’s bottling operation for canning after market trends dictated that sales of canned craft beer will overtake bottled craft beers within two years.

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Sam Hoffmann, the owner of Red Lodge Ales, factored in a number of reasons behind his craft beer business opting for a future in aluminum cans rather than bottles.

“A big part of it is demographics, 25-35 year-olds are drinking out of cans and they drink the most beer. The growth in bottled crafts beers is in decline. The cost of bottling glass has gone up dramatically in recent years. We had aging equipment and were competing with (other) cans on the shelf,” he said. 

“There’s also its portability where people like to go down the river or ski. Can’s are a much more convenient package,” he added.

A Nielsen poll recently predicted canned beer will outsell bottled beer by 2021. 

Hoffmann started this journey back in 2018 vetting manufacturers; design work, package material, to putting the equipment where he wanted it. First Interstate Bank provided funding for the changeover.

The new operating area for the canning line only covers a 600 sq. ft. area at his plant north of Red Lodge.

“I’m always amazed how technology moves on. It’s a credit to American ingenuity. German companies have tried to reduce the footprint for American craft brewers but American companies actually build stuff for us in mind where we don’t have much room. Back in the day, you’d have needed a 10,000 sq. ft. for this,” he said.

Cost savings will be immense, with trucks now able to carry 200,000 plus cans as opposed to 90,000 bottles. Each palette delivered holds 8,169 cans. 

The new operation oversees 60 cans a minute up from 40 bottles a minute. 

“Maybe we can get up to 70 cans later,” said Hoffmann. 

All the aluminum cans have a water-based liner inside “so you don’t get that aluminum flavor you may have got in the past,” said Hoffmann. 

Such is the revolution in canning even the daily production is down by nearly half depending on the time of year and style of beer said Hoffmann. In the old days of bottling an average day could be 10-hours with clean up, now it’s reduced to around 5 hours. 

Although come summer he says when there are 1,000 case runs in a day he expects there to be over 6 hours of canning. 

There have also been some design changes with in house artist Megan Kalb redesigning the labels while keeping the colors associated with the beers “as people are used to them,” he said.

Because of the freedom canning brings, Hoffmann is producing twin packs and seasonal mixed packs to freshen things up. 

Hoffmann is pleased with the response to Red Lodge Ales debut in cans with the product “flying off the shelves at the Beartooth Market and Town Pump.”

“The seasonal 6 packs have been very popular,” said Hoffmann.

Some of Hoffmann’s beers will still be bottled but only the 22oz. ones and then only in Billings. 

Tours of the Red Lodge Ales canning production will be available over the coming months.