You’d think that in 2016, with craft beer a considerable cultural industry, the discussion about the quality of canned craft beer would have gone extinct – but sadly, this isn’t the case.
And it’s a particular sore point for Matt Human, marketing manager for West Coast Canning, who says he’s tired of people thinking that bottled beer is “more craft.”
“We’d like to break that stigma, if we can,” Human says.
“Everyone has this idea that it might [affect the taste of the beer]. We have no idea where that came from. Maybe from some bad cans back in the day.”
And so Human and the folks at West Coast Canning conceived of CanCity, a daylong beer festival being held on July 30 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza. The event will feature 20 breweries pouring from cans, in an effort to hip consumers to the fact that canned beer is just beer – no better, no worse.
But the event also doubles as a celebration party after West Coast Canning’s two years in business. In that time, the business has quadrupled in size, and they’ve effectively cornered the market for mobile canning in BC.
Matt Leslie and Kevin Peterson launched the company in 2014, inspired by mobile canning operations they’d seen sprouting up in the US, despite knowing very little about the craft beer industry at the time.
“We started out without a whole lot of beer knowledge,” Leslie says, adding that they were a little premature to market. There just weren’t enough businesses at the time that needed WCC’s services.
But emphasis must be placed on little premature, because within six months, a dozen breweries had opened up. In total, 41 breweries have launched in BC between 2014 and this story’s publication date, the majority of which have intentions to package their beer, but without the budget necessarily to purchase the equipment.
Today, WCC has 28 regular clients, including popular local breweries Strange Fellows, Steel & Oak and Moody Ales, and it has recently begun canning in Alberta.
“We’re lucky enough…that we’re now included in people’s business plans as breweries start to open, which is huge for us,” Human says.
Today, they have two full-time mobile crews operating five days a week, plus another crew at their Burnaby warehouse, sleeving cans for clients that need them. WCC charges by the can, the cost of which varies depending on what a company needs.
Leslie says, “We’re a cheaper alternative in that it’s easier to get into the marketplace through us. We’re of course more expensive on the cost per can, but they don’t have to shell out $150,000 for a canning line.”
He adds, “Honestly, it’s been crazy this summer. It was crazy last summer, and this summer is crazy busy but everyone’s doing even more. We’re at places more often and we’re also canning more beer,” Leslie says.
He attributes this to the fact that most of their clients who are in their second or third years in business and following through on business expansion plans that include more packaging.
This speaks to the consumer demand for more locally produced craft beer. According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild, craft beer has grown to 23 per cent of BC’s beer market, up from 20 per cent in 2014. This is encouraging news for the industry, as beer produced by macro breweries – and the beer segment as a whole – continues to decline.
Yet, as the industry grows, as more breweries open and more beers are produced, the shelves at liquor stores are becoming more crowded.
But while Leslie doesn’t deny this is the case, he says he’s not particularly concerned about it.
“We use the US as a forecasting tool. We don’t see it happening there,” he says. “In places like Portland, yeah, breweries are fighting for shelf space, but breweries are still thriving down there, as well.
“Until that point where we start to see a problem down there, we don’t really see a problem up here. There’s not that much of a difference, other than we’re taxed more on the beers. The customers are the same.”
• CanCity runs July 30 from 2-8 pm at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza. Tickets $25 at CANCITY.ca.