Sea Legs launches mobile canning company

Brisbane’s Sea Legs Brewing Co. has launched a full-service mobile canning business in the wake of a COVID-19 pivot.

The Kangaroo Point brewery launched in 2018 with a similar focus on selling beer through its brewpub as many small and local operations have. But it was forced, like many others, to make changes to its business model when lockdowns hit.

“I can pin [the launch of Sea Legs Mobile Canning] to the day COVID really started, when we and the rest of the world felt that anxiety about what was happening,” explained Dave Machin, co-founder at Sea Legs.

“We were all sitting around together, thinking ‘what are we gonna do?’ We need to be able to package, we’ve got a brewery but need to be able to get that beer outside of our venue, so the obvious choice was to get our own packaging line.

“We bought it and were canning pretty much every week at least one beer, volumes were up. Due to the fact we were only using it 1-2 days a week here, we thought why don’t we get a truck and get it out around Brisbane?”

Sea Legs brought in engineer Murray Webb three months ago to head up the new operation under the Sea Legs umbrella, who was formerly an R&D engineer in the mining industries focusing on robotics.

“I was looking outside my previous role to see what else there was on offer – mining and R&D was extremely stressful and unforgiving, so part of it was a lifestyle change. I’ve always been into brewing and I’ve homebrewed for a number of years so I was close to the industry, just never worked in it,” said Webb.

Machin said they were fortunate to get him on board.

“It was definitely one of the eureka moments when we met Murray,” said Machin.

“We were lucky to find Murray and get him on board. [And this venture] opens up the opportunity of canning for brewpubs and smaller guys who may have not considered it before. They know it will come out at high quality and efficiency levels, and potentially provide them with another revenue stream.”

The nuts and bolts

Sea Legs invested in a CODI CCL 45 counter-pressure, six-head canning line which can fill up to 50 cans a minute.

“It’s a counter-pressure canning line and that’s important because of the environment we’re in. It’s forgiving on the beer in regards to reducing any
exposure to atmosphere during the process.

“The cans per minute is a big thing, that’s how fast we can empty a tank and put it into a packaged product, the other one is the control on the dissolved oxygen (DO) that gets into the beer. It does a good job of keeping that oxygen content low.

“Obviously the enemy of beer is oxygen which gives it that off flavour and you don’t want that. The lower number you can get on that the better, and we’re looking at 20-40 ppb (parts per billion).”

Sea Legs also invested in testing equipment to manage CO2 and oxygen concentration as well as extracts and alcohol content.

“It’s a small chemistry set, but it’s critical in maintaining efficiency and quality, so we do have the equipment at that high level of accuracy.

“We know ourselves as customers before this that you want to have the confidence that that beer will have a long shelf life.”

Sea Legs has been modifying its equipment to better suit its customers, and has also invested in a nitro-doser for brewers looking to can nitro beers. Another vital element is of course the cans.

“We’ve been buying cans for a few years now, we have those connections, we know pricing, we’re there to help and they can leverage off our buying power.

“With the printed cans from the Visy’s and Orora’s of the world there are order minimums. You can’t just buy 3,000 cans, they might have a minimum order of several tens of thousands and that can be intimidating for businesses just dipping their toes in.

“But we can supply cans and lids and point them in the direction of printing, we’re going to offer a full service and leverage off what we’ve learned in the last couple of years.”

The canning team has undertaken a couple of off-site canning jobs already.

“As far as canning went, it went as well as anyone could hope for,” explained operations manager Murray Webb.

“We took a lot of learnings about how to adapt the equipment to a new environment, to mobilise and pack down in one day.

“It’s very much building a foundation for the business, training me, setting up the business to make it more mobile and we will head into 2022 prepared and open for bookings.”

Keeping it local

Sea Legs will initially be keeping its mobile canning operations local, and Machin, Webb and the team are hoping to help to contribute to Queensland’s growing brewing industry.

“We saw at the Indies this year that Queensland brewers really excelled. Five or six years ago we had a couple of breweries, it was a green industry and very new here,” said Machin.

“But Queensland has really found its place as a top-quality state and is punching out high-quality beers.

“So we’ll be close to home to start, it’s a big job to rig up everything, we obviously have wheels, so we wouldn’t be opposed to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast, but we’ll talk with a few breweries there so we can make it worthwhile and come down once and stay in the neighbourhood for a couple of days.”

Sea Legs also benefits from its unique perspective as an existing, established brewery.

“We know things don’t always go as planned, but I think we can lend so much to smaller breweries or those that are uncertain.

“There’s no reason why we can’t hit every mark with brewers, we have tonnes of experience and focus on that pre-job planning. They can use all of our learnings and experience to help.”

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