Originally Published By The News-Press - Shared strictly to promote and celebrate those in the craft beer industry in our local community.
These aren't your dad's beer cans. Fort Myers Brewing Co. and Naples Beach Brewery join Fat Point Brewing by adding cans to their craft-beer lineup.
(Photo: Amanda Inscore/The News-Press)
Green, just-sanitized cans snaked down through a helix-shaped conveyor tube in a back room at Fort Myers Brewing Co. on Friday.
It was the inaugural canning run for the 3-year-old microbrewery’s award-winning High 5 IPA, and things were moving smoothly.
The cans filed onto a moving belt, to be filled with beer, fitted with pop-top lids, and then stamped with their birthdates and a little message from management.
“You can actually customize what the stamp says,” co-owner Jen Gratz said, pulling a cold can sweaty with condensation from the line to show off its freshly inked bottom.
“Right now they just say, ‘We heart cans,’ because, you know, we do.”
Turns out, lots of people do.
Co-owner Jennifer Gratz shows off one of the first cans of High 5 IPA to be packaged at Fort Myers Brewing Co.
Cans, once the preferred beer-sipping vehicle of cheap dads and frat boys, have made a comeback.
Craft brewers around the country have revived the format, and Southwest Florida breweries are getting on board, too. They’re filling cans with hoppy IPAs and smooth-sipping ales. They’re packaging them in easy-to-ship pallets, and selling them at local grocery stores where they’re challenging the Millers and Buds of the world for shelf space.
Fort Myers Brewing churned out its first batches of cans — High 5 and Gateway Gold — just last week. Naples Beach Brewery will launch its canning line Friday with cans of its Naples Classic golden ale.
The two are following in the canning footsteps of Punta Gorda’s Fat Point Brewing, which started canning in April 2015.
“Our cans are everywhere now, from Naples to Tampa to Gainesville to Lakeland,” Fat Point’s brewmaster Bill Frazer said, noting cans make up about 25 percent of the brewery’s distributed product.
“I want people to be able to take our beer on the boat, to the beach, to the pool. It's Florida, you have to go where the people are.”
Cans of Fat Point Brewing’s Big Boca Ale at a local Publix. (Photo: Special to The News-Press)
Russ Phillips, founder of craftcans.com, which tracks canned microbrews nationally, is surprised Florida’s craft brewers didn’t latch on to the canning trend sooner.
“Just four or five years ago, no one was canning in Florida,” Phillips said. “Now, it’s everywhere.”
Phillips credits the recent canning explosion to a variety of factors: Cans are cheap. They protect beer from air and light. They’re easy to store and ship. They don’t break. “They’re perfect,” he said, “and consumers get it now. The beer geeks that used to shun cans now demand cans. It’s the perfect storm.”
While cans are relatively cheap, canning lines are not.
Simple, linear systems that turn out a few-thousand cans of beer during a day-long run can cost $100,000 or more. More complex systems, such as Fort Myers Brewing Co.’s, which can produce upwards of 12,000 cans a day, retail for more than $500,000.
Which is where Crowlers come in.
Crowler? That’d be a can-shaped growler — as in giant, 32-ounce cans of beer filled and sealed to order from Crowler-equipped local breweries such as Naples Beach, and Point Ybel in south Fort Myers.
A Crowler of Snook Bite IPA from Point Ybel Brewing Co. in south Fort Myers. (Photo: Special to The News-Press)
“I think it was about $6,000,” owner Walt Costello said of the price tag for the Crowler machine he ordered from Oskar Blues Brewery, a craft canning pioneer based in Colorado.
“They weigh less and they travel better, too. You can get four Crowlers, throw them in your backpack and head to the beach.”
Naples Beach has offered Crowlers for more than a year. Owner Will Lawson likes their portability. But he likes cans even more, and is looking forward to expanding his brewery’s reach when his canning line starts running later this week.
“The cans get us into more of Lee and Charlotte,” said Lawson, who opened Naples Beach Brewery — Southwest Florida’s first microbrewery — in Naples in November 2012.
“Reaching into a cooler of ice and grabbing a can of beer, then that hiss and that crack when you open it, it’s something special. When you look at the area, cans are just a no-brainer.”
Kristen Germain assembles the six packs after they were canned at Fort Myers Brewing Company on Friday.
A look at SWFL microbreweries offering cans
• Fat Point Brewing
What it cans: Big Boca Ale, Ryeght Angle IPA; two more beers, still to be determined, will be coming to cans by 2017
Canning abilities: Its machine cans about 7,200 beers in a day-long shift
Find it: 611 Charlotte St., Punta Gorda; call 800-380-7405 or visit fatpoint.com
• Fort Myers Brewing Co.
What it cans: Gateway Gold, High 5 IPA
Canning abilities: Its machine can currently turn out 12,000 cans in an 8-10 hour shift
Find it: 12811 Commerce Lakes Drive, No. 28, Fort Myers; 313-6576 or fmbrew.com
The tops are put onto the cans of High 5 at Fort Myers Brewing Company on Friday.
• Naples Beach Brewery
What it cans: Starting Friday, the brewery will can its Naples Classic golden ale. Its Latitude Adjustment IPA and Keewaydin Crusher cream ale will be canned in the coming weeks. The brewery will also fill Crowlers (32-ounce, can-shaped growlers) of any of the 20-plus house beers sold in its taproom.
Canning abilities: 4,200-plus cans can be produced in a day-long shift