Vault Brewing’s packaging method gives canned beer a smooth, micro-bubbly pour to mimic that of draft beer without the use of nitrogen-charged widgets.
Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see things in a different way, which describes the brothers at Vault Brewing Company, Yardley, PA. James and John Cain opened the brewpub doors in 2012 as a family venture. It gets its name from the fact the building had been a bank from the 1800s through its last tenant.
“We kept the original vault door with the space and we converted it into a beer cellar,” says James Cain. In keeping with the theme, the high-end brewpub’s décor includes regal chandeliers, safes and columns.
“We’re very much about an immersive beer drinking experience,” says Cain. “We go to great lengths to control everything that we can, which is where the concept of Nitro Cans came into play. We really wanted to be able to preserve the nitrogenated drinking experience that we’re providing in the brewpub elsewhere as well.”
The Nitro Can is a widget-less can of beer that offers a smooth, creamy head of foam similar to an at-pub glass thanks to the addition of nitrogen during canning.
Cain explains that there are two different types of widgets in the market:
Patented technology owned by Diageo (Guinness) involves a floating ball widget that is nitrogen charged during canning.
Technology from Ball Corp. uses a widget affixed to the bottom of a can that’s also charged with nitrogen during canning.
According to Cain, Vault couldn’t use the proprietary Diageo method and didn’t want to use the Ball technology because it is supplied in minimum orders of tens of thousands of units and because they felt they could do it better.
“We decided just to do away with the widget entirely and figure out a different method of nitrogenating the can,” summarizes Cain.
Cans are a different story
Nitrogenation during packaging is not new, of course. “Packagers have been using liquid nitrogen for all sorts of products, from bagged snacks to cans of peanuts,” says Cain. “The idea of not using the widget isn’t new either—Left Hand Brewery pioneered that technology as the first brewery to do away with the widget entirely. While they did it for bottles, cans are a whole other story.”
Vault’s primary challenge was to make their technique work on a small, mobile canning system that doesn’t offer counter-pressure filling. “Counter-pressure can fillers are large and not mobile,” he says.
Although Cain says it would be relatively easy to nitrogenate the beer and then can it, Vault had to figure out a way to do it mid-packaging using a gravity-flow filler, which they did using a proper combination of variables that were perfected during a trial-and-error process.
Next: Production, widespread interest and future Nitro Can plans…