IronHeart Canning, a mobile production service provider for small beverage companies, is crisscrossing the northeast, setting up shop in breweries and hard cideries that found the costs of installing their own permanent canning lines daunting. "Economically, I try to make it where breweries are making the same margins if they had their own equipment," said IronHeart's Tyler Wille.
Wille's two mobile units, based in Londonderry, New Hampshire and Monroe, Connecticut, travel the northeast, with staff, executing all the steps in canning from can sanitation to filling and capping. Wille, who explained he charges on a sliding scale based on the amount of products he cans for companies, told New England Cable News he got the idea for the company while crunching the numbers to see if he could launch his own beer brand. He feared the costs of packaging his own beer would be prohibitive, so he recognized an opportunity.
But Wille said he has no sadness over not operating his own brewery. Quite the opposite, in fact: he said getting to be a critical part of so many other labels' growth is very satisfying. "That's my product as well," Wille said of the brands that outsource their canning to him. "Maybe not in the eyes of the consumer--they don't know there's an outsourced mobile canning line doing this, but I take a lot of pride in what we put out, and the quality of the work we do together."
Wormtown Brewery in Worcester, Massachusetts, Rising Tide Brewing in Portland Maine, and New Hampshire's Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery are among the companies IronHeart has worked with, he said.
At Citizen Cider in Burlington, Vermont, co-founder Justin Heilenbach said the 3-year-old company wanted to expand its reach into stores in Massachusetts and elsewhere, but discovered a big barrier. "Essentially a $200,000 piece of equipment," he told NECN, describing the cost of installing his own canning line.
While that cost was out of reach for the young operation, Heilenbach said IronHeart's convenience and flexibility allowed cans of Citizen Cider to start hitting the road, destined for retailers in the Chicago area, in North Carolina, in Massachusetts, and around Vermont. "Working with Tyler allowed us to be in the canned package well before we otherwise could've afforded to," Heilenbach said.
Cans zip through IronHeart's mobile production lines at about 40 per minute, Wille said. The mobile units can be adjusted to accommodate cans of varying sizes. After cans are sanitized, they're filled with carbon dioxide to ensure there's no oxygen inside that could impact product safety or taste. After liquid fills the cans, a final blast of CO2 removes the last bit of oxygen, and lays the groundwork for that satisfying "pop" sound created when the can's seal is broken.
Wille, who said he is currently the only company providing this service in New England, said other mobile canning companies are operating in other parts of the country. Other companies like his, including ones serving California and Colorado's craft beer markets, have contributed to a marked increase in the number of craft beers and hard ciders now offering their products in cans, Wille said.
Wille predicted cans will keep helping craft beers and hard ciders find new markets, explaining aluminum is easier to ship, store, and display than glass. He said aluminum cools faster than glass, offers better defense against light than glass does, and is more accepted at many venues like beaches. Wille also told NECN modern cans have linings that reduce the metallic taste beer drinkers have historically complained about.
Wille acknowledged glass bottles are still the dominant container for craft beer in this country, but said he sees a bright future for cans. "There's definitely room for us to expand," he said.