A row of empty 12-ounce cans rattled down the mobile conveyor Thursday inside Ordnance Brewing, where they were washed, date-stamped and filled with a hoppy West Coast IPA.
Craig Coleman, one of the managing partners for the Boardman craft brewery, stood by as thousands of cans were sealed and snapped into orange plastic six-pack holders. For the first time, Ordnance has started canning some of its signature beers, which Coleman said will open new markets to the young business.
“We’re doing what we can to get our beer in front of people,” Coleman said. “It’s a real crowded and loud marketplace out there.”
In addition to EOD double IPA, Ordnance will be canning its Bloops blueberry wheat, made with locally grown blueberries. By the end of Friday, Coleman expects to finish canning 14 pallets, each containing about 9,000 individual cans.
Six-packs should start hitting shelves across Oregon and Washington in early April.
“It’s a package that works,” Coleman said. “Not everybody does bottles.”
In fact, aluminum cans have some distinct advantages over glass bottles, Coleman said. First, cans do not allow light to penetrate into the beer, as overexposure to light can break down the alpha acids in hops and leave the beer tasting skunky.
Cans are also easier to take on the go, which is especially useful for beer drinkers who enjoy an active lifestyle.
“There are a lot of places you can’t take a bottle,” Coleman said.
Ordnance hired Craft Canning and Bottling for the job, a company based in Portland but serving beer and cider makers across the Northwest. Matt Stump, who heads up the canning side of the operation, said they arrived Thursday morning to set up their mobile assembly line.
The machine, called an MC-250, runs empty cans single file along a continuous automatic conveyor where they are filled and sealed. Stump said they serve between 80 and 100 clients, and is noticing more craft brewers and beer drinkers alike coming around to cans.
“Now that we’re getting past people thinking that when it comes out of a can it is going to taste like metal, we’re really seeing the benefits,” Stump said.
Ordnance, which opened its brewery and tap house at the Port of Morrow in 2015, already expanded production last year, going from seven barrels to a 50-barrel system. The company also signed on with the Odom Corporation last summer to extend its distribution into eastern Washington, Seattle, northern Idaho and Alaska.
Coleman, a local farmer who opened Neighbor Dudes tap house in Hermiston with friends and family before they decided to try brewing, said he is impressed at how quickly Ordnance has caught on in the craft beer community.
“We’ve been very well supported,” he said. “We make beer for everybody.”
Canning isn’t the only thing new at Ordnance. The owners are also spinning off a sister distillery — Ordnance Distilling — which will make vodka, gin and whiskey using all ingredients from their own farms.
That means locally grown corn, potatoes and rye for their varieties of vodka, gin and whiskey.
“Farm to bottle is a good story,” Coleman said. “Everybody wants to know where their food comes from. That’s something we can do at a volume that other people can’t.”
Coleman said the distillery received its final license from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission last month. Labels still need to be approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but Coleman said that should be done soon.
Distilling equipment is housed in the same building as the brewery, but kept separate by a chain link fence. Coleman said the vodka and gin are getting close to bottling, while the whiskey will take some time to age properly.
“It’s kind of an adventure,” he said. “If consumers accept us, it’s game on. And they will accept us.”
Meanwhile, outside of Ordnance, a new food truck has also sprung to life. Food on the Fry, operated by Kaitlin Gustafson and her family, has developed a symbiotic relationship with the brewery, serving up french fries with loads of toppings and wings for customers who stop in for a drink.
“It just seemed like a good business opportunity,” Gustafson said.
So far, Gustafson said the reception has been positive. They opened about a month and a half ago, starting from nothing, and celebrated their grand opening on Saint Patrick’s Day.
As the weather gets nicer, Gustafson said they are already beginning to see an increase in foot traffic and plan to diversify their menu based on customer recommendations.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.