2018-06-13 / Taste

Steam Bell cracks into canning


If you enjoy canned beverages of any stripe, you have Richmond to thank.

Not long after the end of Prohibition, the food-canning company American Can Co. teamed up with the Gottfried Kreuger Brewing Co. to test whether consumers would accept beer in can form. The test market they chose was Richmond.Steam Bell Beer Works is now canning its popular Grisette beer. Steam Bell Beer Works is now canning its popular Grisette beer.

The River City overwhelmingly approved of canned beer in 1935; by the end of that year, 37 other breweries would follow Gottfried Kreuger’s lead.

While it’s not reinventing the can, Midlothian’s steadily growing Steam Bell Beer Works does have an innovation to tout: It’s added its own canning line. A week and a half ago, Steam Bell canned its first beer, a short six-pack run of its popular Grisette. A grisette is an older beer style from southern Belgium that’s similar to a saison.

Canning operations are prohibitively expensive for most craft breweries; most Richmond brewers either avoid canning entirely or employ a company with a mobile canning line. In May, Steam Bell owner Brad Cooper bought a used canning line from a brewery in Eagle, Colorado, for $40,000 and brought it back in a rented U-Haul.

While he already sells his Tiramisu Stout in bottles, Cooper says cans are a better option.

“A can is a superior product to a bottle, not only from a quality standpoint, but a cost standpoint,” Cooper says. “You get a lot tighter of a seal in a can, so no oxygen can get in.”

Additionally, Cooper plans to can his River City Tap Water, an American light lager crafted at his Canon & Draw Brewing Company, which opened in Richmond this March. He hopes both products will be available by the end of the month.

Looking ahead, Cooper plans to can other small batch beers, as well as craft sodas he sells at Steam Bell under the label Trussings Craft Fizz. While he’s still determining which sodas are most popular at his tasting room at Steam Bell, he says he’ll most likely can the blueberry basil or cherry lime flavors.

This summer, Cooper plans to test a line of goses – a top-fermented beer known for its sourness – and can whichever one is most popular. ¦

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