Richmond's relationship with canned beer dates to its inception. Shortly after Prohibition ended in 1933, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Co. and the American Can Co. teamed up to test the first canned beer here. After receiving a 91-percent approval rating from local drinkers, canned beer spread throughout the world.
Now another canning innovation is poised to hit Richmond. Starting in April, Virginia brewers will be able to call on Old Dominion Mobile Canning. Instead of having to buy, maintain and house an expensive canning machine, brewers can hire the company to come to them.
The company's portable machine is the first of its kind on the East Coast, and is transported by truck to can beer on site. Owner Michael Horn originally contemplated opening a brewery, he says. "I looked into that and said: 'There's already a lot of good beer here in Virginia. Do I really need to brew beer?'"
Instead Horn partnered with Colorado-based Mobile Canning Systems. "I was trying to look for an opportunity for a growing industry here in Virginia that would satisfy my passion to be part of the craft brewing boom," he says.
You tend to think of craft beer poured lovingly into a pint glass, or drunk from a bottle. But the canned craft beer movement has been gaining traction. Because canning keeps light and oxygen out, it preserves a beer's taste better than bottling. Cans are more portable, cool down faster, are more environmentally friendly and preserve beer longer. Plus, you don't have to worry about breaking one at the river.
Some people complain that canned beer has a metallic taste, but Horn says that all beer cans are lined to avoid contact with metal.
Horn's machine can process 40 to 50 barrels of beer a day, or about 12,000 to 15,000 cans. The machine — essentially an 8-foot-long conveyor belt on wheels — can kick out 40 cans a minute, and is capable of filling cans sized at 8, 12, 16, 19 and 22 ounces. So far, Horn's client list includes Virginia brewers Wild Wolf and Devil's Backbone, and he says he's in discussions with other breweries.
"You can rest assured that everyone in Richmond, with the exception of one large brewery, we're in negotiations with," Horn says.
The company is a two-man operation, but Horn expects to hire some help for the summer to keep up with demand.