Sean Kingston is a very busy man.
The owner of WilCraft Can, a mobile canning company, is running at full capacity at a time when others in the craft beer business are doing what they can to survive.
Kingston is making the rounds to breweries in Wisconsin and northern Illinois at least six days a week and his services are booked solid for the month of April.
The Canning Traveling Show
The mobile canning process is exactly what it sounds like. Kingston and his crew load up a 26-foot box truck, stored in Mount Pleasant, with the mechanical equipment needed to put beer into cans.
They head to a brewery – including locals like Brewfinity, Explorium Brewpub, Gathering Place Brewing and Company Brewing – spend an hour and a half setting up, sanitizing and testing, and then they start putting beer into cans. WilCraft can produce between 100 and 130 cases of beer in an hour, and even add pressure-sensitive labels if needed.
After the canning is done, the crew cleans up, packs up the equipment, pulls away from the brewery and drives off into the proverbial sunset.
Helping Local Breweries When They Need It the Most
With taprooms closed, to-go packaging (either at the brewery or at a grocery store or liquor store) is the only way that local brewers can keep cash flow coming in. Gathering Place owner Joe Yeado is a grateful WilCraft Can client.
“Selling canned beer to-go is the only way we can stay in business right now,” said Yeado. “We built this company around the taproom and serving local bars and restaurants with kegs. With both these closed, our revenues are down roughly 60%. The only reason we’re still here is that we have beer in cans and we have an awesome group of people who are supporting us with their to-go purchases.”
Gathering Place began using WilCraft in July to put its two flagship beers, Friendly Debate IPA and Treffpunkt Kolsch, into cans. But the brewery is expanding its can offering significantly and is releasing five more canned beers through customer pick up on Saturday (April 18) from 2 to 6 p.m.
For small to mid-sized breweries, or for those with limited space, adding a canning line with a price tag starting at $100,000 just isn’t feasible. That’s where WilCraft comes in.
“The cost of package beer versus selling across the bar doesn’t really make it worth it to invest up to $120,000 in a canning system,” said Mike Doble, owner of Explorium Brewpub. “Having Sean come in once a month or so really is our most cost efficient way to produce some measure of package product.”
Added Yeado: “(The cost of a canning line isn’t) realistic for a brewery our size that focuses on the taproom and local market. Working with Sean has allowed us to utilize a high-end canning line to put our beer in cans for a fraction of the cost.”
Background in Science
Kingston started developing his business plan in 2017 and was open for business in April 2019. WilCraft is the only mobile canning service based in Milwaukee. His background is in chemical engineering and he spent more than a decade working at SC Johnson as an aerosol engineer.
“What I’ve come to realize in the industry is the guys doing this don’t understand liquid filling,” Kingston said. “I understand liquid filling and pressurized products. From 13 years at SC Johnson I learned a lot about quality and brought it to the industry.”
Kingston’s attention to quality control earns raves from clients like Doble. His process includes strict adherence to sanitation procedures, steps to ensure that cans aren’t underfilled, and monitoring the presence of dissolved oxygen (which in high amounts can limit a beer’s shelf life) during packaging. The end result of the process is canned beer that breweries can trust will be fresh and full when beer drinkers indulge. And right now, that’s essential to business.
“Because of COVID-19 we want to make sure we’re supporting our brewery partners,” added Kingston. “Our hope is that all of our customers stay in business. It’s a tough time. But people still need to drink.”