Recently I was sitting at Rowley Farmhouse Ales, talking about barrel-aged goodies with the bartender as I sipped on their latest edition of Agent Scully IPA. Chef and co-owner Jeffrey Kaplan then sauntered down the steps, as he often does at the end of the day to greet his customers and check on the business before he heads home for the night. Spotting me, a particular glint took to his eyes, the way it does when he has news. But, by his grin, I knew it was bigger news than say, a rare keg of barrel-aged stout that they just acquired for a certain party they host every November … It was bigger than that. And, I knew right away I was going to need a bigger note pad.
DSBC: What’s the big news?
Kaplan: Rowley Farmhouse Ales is going to enter the canning world! We’re extremely excited to announce we just purchased a small canning line, and it’s getting ready to ship out to us.
DSBC: Tell us all about it. What kind of machine is it? 2-head filler? 4-head filler?
Kaplan: This is a small 2-head canning line, prefect for our boutique production.
DSBC: Where is it coming from?
Kaplan: This is a brand new line from Cask Global Canning Solutions in Quebec.
DSBC: Once it’s running, how many cans will it fill per hour? Standard-size 12-ounce or tall boys?
Kaplan: This is a small system and we’re not trying to take over the world. With that being said, we’re going to be filling 16-ounce 4-packs. We’re told the system can produce up to 25 cs per hour. Our goal is to get up to 400-500 cases a month. So not a lot of beer.
DSBC: How soon do you anticipate the line to be operational?
Kaplan: We’re hoping to have the system up and running by the beginning of November.
DSBC: When are you shooting to get cans out into the market?
Kaplan: Our goal is to have cans out in the market (throughout the state) by the end of November.
DSBC: Will your price-point be competitive?
Kaplan: We think so. Obviously it will be up to the retailer, but our prices to the stores and restaurants are going low, so they can pass those prices onto the consumer. Our goal is to see all of our 4-packs being sold between $9.99 and $10.99.
DSBC: How is distribution going to work?
Kaplan: We sell through Favorite Brands here in New Mexico, and our goal is for them to have cold cases ready to deliver before this upcoming Thanksgiving.
DSBC: How far do you plan to reach into the market at first?
Kaplan: Barring any issues (fingers crossed), we think we’ll be able to take care of the entire state right from the get go.
DSBC: What beers do you expect to can, first?
Kaplan: Our core line-up for sure, Germophile, Fields of Rye, and IPA. Then we’re going to have some seasonal beers available. Plus, we plan to have at least one new beer, which we’re keeping as a surprise for now. All I can say is it’s a super popular fruited sour we’ve had on draft in the past, and feel it will crush in cans.
I also spoke to co-owner and Brewmaster John Rowley about their new enterprise.
DSBC: RFA has primarily done bottles in the past. That’s due to the bottle-conditioning process, which is typically better for your type of beer, right?
Rowley: Absolutely right. And, we will still continue to bottle and bottle-condition our barrel-aged beers. That’s not going to change.
DSBC: Why the decision to can now?
Rowley: For our non-barrel-aged beers that we do not bottle condition currently — Germophile, Agent Scully, any of our live lacto Goses, Fields of Rye, et cetera — we can’t really compete on price point with beers that are canned. It’s so much cheaper to can beer versus bottling. We currently have Fields of Rye 375 mL singles in the market, but we have to price these at around $6 retail per bottle to start with. That’s a lot, and it keeps people from buying our beer. New Mexico is a price-sensitive marketplace. If we move to 16-ounce cans, we can sell a 64-ounce 4-pack of the same beer for $10.99 or so retail. The economics are just so much better for the consumer, and everyone else in the chain. You’re also offering a lower dissolved oxygen product, if we do it right, and can’t have any skunking/visible or UV light interaction, which is also better for the health/stability of the beer. It’s a win-win, all around.
DSBC: Will the cans represent your beers well? And, what steps are you taking to make sure they do?
Rowley: I believe they will present them as good, if not better, if we don’t go too crazy with carbonation levels. We currently aim for 3.0 volumes for all our non-BA beer except the IPAs and things like Stout-ish. Cans can handle these volumes, so we should be good to go. Of course, we will need to do a little testing, but that’s easy enough to do once we are all set up. Once we dial in the process, then we will start packaging all the non-barrel-aged beers we make in cans.
DSBC: Are you canning only certain beers?
Rowley: Our plan is to can Germophile, a fruited version on occasion, our live lacto goses, Fields of Rye, the IPAs, any non-barrel-aged stouts, and the Petite Blanche (and fruited variants of) once that beer is brewed and becomes ready. And, something (else) special.
All the BA sours and saisons will continue to be bottled and bottle-conditioned in corked and caged 750 mL bottles, as this is the proper format for these beers. We have some barrel-aged stout as well that we plan to adjunctify, and so we might consider canning these beers once they come around as that’ll be easier on price points, which will intrinsically be higher based on the cost of these beers to brew.
DSBC: What do you think cans will do for the RFA brand?
Rowley: I think cans will widen awareness of what we do and brew at RFA. There are still many people who don’t know of us, and what we are all about. Our simple and classy graphics will stand out in a field of cans on any shelf. We are hopeful that cans will bring us into a more profitable space, while helping the consumers who don’t like to travel out of their comfort zones. The price points are just so much better, and you cannot reach that with bottles, no matter how much you try. We simply don’t have the economies of scale bigger breweries can enjoy, but even the bulk of these people have moved to cans. It’s just a better format overall.
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Well, there you have it. Rowley Farmhouse Ales is entering the wild world of canning, making their product easier to find, purchase, and take up into the mountains with you, wherever you are in the state, and whatever state of mind you’re in. If you’ve never made the trip up to Santa Fe for RFA’s silver-medal-winning Berliner Weisse, Germophile, well, soon it will be as easy as driving down the block to your local fine wine and liquor stores, and maybe some day your local grocer.
To low DO levels, and high shelf-visibility, cheers!
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