A Danville father-and-son team offers one of the few canning services in the country for small breweries that don’t want to add their own lines.
Pete Rickert Sr. and Pete Rickert Jr. started We Can Mobile Canning last December, and the phone has been ringing off the hook since, they say.
The family business is already planning to add an employee and upgrade its equipment, said Rickert Jr.
He says they are "incredibly" busy, and could have two or three canning lines running by the end of the summer if the pace keeps up.
"Geographically, we can reach a lot of places in three to four hours," he said, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio and all of Pennsylvania, which ranks sixth in the country with 93 craft breweries, according to USA Today.
Rickert Jr., 38, has identified 109 places in the state that may be potential clients for mobile canning.
The process is fairly simple.
The can guys get a call from a brewery that wants its beer in cans but doesn't want to set up its own canning line.
The Rickerts show up with a trailer full of empty cans, a filler and a sealer for the top of the cans.
They hook up the filler to the tank that holds the finished beer and start filling cans two at a time.
An air line blows carbon dioxide into the can first to remove oxygen, a sworn enemy of beer.
Another nozzle then fills the 12- or 16-ounce can.
The open can is moved by hand to the sealer, which crimps the container closed.
They can fill 100 to 150 cases in about eight hours with three people.
"The system is really low tech," Rickert Jr. said.
The automated filler they are planning to purchase this summer will fill 350 cases in the same time with one person, he added.
Before heading to the brewery, the Rickerts label all the cans with shrink-wrap labels.
The full-color labels slip over the can and are heated to make them fit skin tight.
"It's the next best thing to a printed can," Rickert Jr. said.
'Taboo' no more
Cans were once the hallmark of cheap suds, but no longer.
Craft brewers know the advantages of packaging in cans, the Rickerts said.
"The taboo of beer in a can is long a thing of the past," says Rickert Jr. "Breweries understand the advantages of cans. You don't have to sell that to them."
That eliminates the need for a sales pitch about how cans protect beer better than glass, are accepted at more places such as the beach or a stadium, and are easier and less expensive to ship.
Cans also "won't disable a Bearcat," said Rickert Sr., joking about the recent Block Party weekend in Bloomsburg where students pelted the armored police vehicle with rocks and bottles.
She was right
Putting beer in cans not only gives a brewery a new package to sell, it opens up more places for its beer to be sold and consumed, such as at home, Rickert Jr. said.
Suddenly, beer that may have been offered on tap or at a certain bar only may be found at six-pack retailers.
A woman who helps run a similar service in California told the Rickerts to be patient because once they start canning one brewery's beer, the others will all want it, too.
"Was she ever right," he said.
Rickert Jr. said he got the idea after reading about The Can Van, a similar business in the San Francisco area.
He did some research and found there was no such service on the East Coast.
But the same month he and his father started up, so did a guy in Florida.
Now, there are about eight such businesses across the country, but none locally.
"There's a huge, untapped market for filling cans," he said. "My phone doesn't stop ringing."
The Rickerts originally planned for a stationary operation in Riverside, but they said LCB rules made it impossible.
So they decided to go mobile, which is probably the better business model, they say.
They work four days a week, leaving a "buffer day" for unexpected delays.
They usually spend a day at a brewery filling 100 to 200 cases.
The Rickerts are filling cans for Lavery Brewing in Erie, and for three varieties of Manayunk Brewing in Philadelphia.
More than a dozen breweries are in some stage of the process to can. And there's interest from 36 other breweries and some soda makers that are working on the logistics of selling cans, the Rickerts said.