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Expanding the cans at East End

It wasn’t that long ago that cans were reserved for macro beer — and treated with scorn by those seeking a better beer experience.

That perception continues to change, nationally and locally. Just take a look around here: Grist House can’t keep cans of Fire on the Hill and Hazedelic Juice Grenade in the coolers. At Dancing Gnome, the weekly can releases almost always sell out on Day One.

And at East End, the monthly canning run to keep Big Hop at distributors and on the shelves has turned into an adventure: Which beer will we can next? It’s varied from standbys like Wheat Hop, Bigger Hop or Green Giant, the citra IPA that was canned again this week, to some newcomers that the folks at the brewery decide deserve some special treatment.

This week, that included two new beers: Partly Clahdy, East End’s dank and juicy New England-style IPA, and Seedless Watermelon Gose, a delicious mix of melon-y brightness and the tart salinity of the style. There’s a third new beer in the mix this week — Cherry Stomp, a Berliner Weisse made with sour cherries — but owner Scott Smith said the temptation to can that one as well was tempered by the fact that the guys from Iron Heart Canning, the Cleveland-based mobile canning company that made its monthly visit this week, had four beers to can already.

Mr. Smith said that as is the case at Grist House and Dancing Gnome, East End’s canning runs tend to sell briskly … and that’s good, especially for the beer. Most of the beers canned at the Larimer brewery are hop-forward, and they benefit from being consumed when they are as fresh as possible, and East End helps that cause by not canning too much: “These aren’t beers that we want to have sitting around for a long time — they’re not built for that,” Mr. Smith said. “I’d rather err on the side of not canning enough than canning too much and letting collect dust on the shelves.”

And besides, as Mr. Smith added: They can always brew more.

A trip to the North Country

bob buck snort

It’s hard to think of Bob McCafferty running an empire of any kind — he smiles and laughs too easily.

But Bob and Jodi McCafferty are more than a decade into North Country Brewing, a craft beer business that started as a brewpub in an old Slippery Rock mortuary. It now includes a production brewery that distributes to three states and a second brewpub at the site of what was Butler County’s first craft beer bar.

The canning operation began a few years ago, when it became apparent that there was a market for the brewery’s well-established staples: Buck Snort Stout, Slimy Pebble Pils or Station 33 Firehouse Red, for example. That’s proved to be a smart move. Sales in Pennsylvania have been solid enough that North Country also started sending beer to Florida, where Western Pennsylvania expats and snowbirds have made it popular. And the brewery recently expanded its distribution area to include eastern Ohio.

The most recent change didn’t come from the business plan. When the Harmony Inn began serving better beer in the mid-1980s, it didn’t take long for the McCaffertys to become regulars. And when they needed money — and time — so they could begin renovations of the Slippery Rock property that would become the original North Country, they both took jobs at the Inn.

So when that business was teetering on the brink a few years ago, the McCaffertys stepped in; they bought the building in 2013, remodeled it inside and out and opened it again a year later. It has the similar feel to the version of the Inn Bob McCafferty loved 30 years ago, and the North Country updates — including Big Rail Brewing, a nano brewery in the basement serving both as an incubator and as a provider of house beers — don’t disrupt that vibe. It’s a restoration that feels like it could hang on for another century.

If Mr. McCafferty is an emperor, he’s a benevolent one. And his empire is doing all of us some good.

Category: Butler County | Tags: , ,

A six pack of Big Hop? Yes we can


Cans and craft beer have already proven to be good partners, across the country and here in Pittsburgh. But it took a more recent brewing industry innovation — a mobile canning production line — to finally bring cans to East End Brewing.

Even with an exponential increase in square footage when Scott Smith moved his brewery to its current spot on Julius Street, figuring out where to squeeze in a canning line — not to mention the mountain of empty cans he’d need to store — in the space. Paying for the operation? That’s a whole other question.

And that’s where We Can Mobile Canning of Danville, Pa., comes in. One day last week, We Can owner Pete Rickert and colleague Jason Cichoskie spent about 12 hours canning 275 cases of Big Hop India pale ale, the first time East End’s flagship beer has been available in something other than a keg, a growler or glass.

Why the change? Mr. Smith has always preferred the idea of canning over a bottling operation (with the exception of the special-release bottles that appear at the brewery a few times each year); they’re lighter and they do a better job of protecting the product from light and oxygen.

Add to that the availability of a company that can store East End’s empty cans and bring the canning line to the brewery? The decision to start canning became much easier.

The guys at We Can are finding that’s the case across their territory, which ranges from Cincinnati to the East Coast. Mr. Rickert said We Can got started two years ago with Lavery Brewing in Erie and now cans up to 10,000 cases of beer each week.

“We’re the canning line, we’re the warehouse and we’re the labor,” he said. “All our customers have to do is get the cans to the distributor or to their customers. We’re here to make this process easy.”

Post-Gazette coverage of East End and We Can:

Category: Allegheny County | Tags: ,