With so many great breweries at the recent Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, there was bound to be some that I would miss while I was there. Thanks to e-mail, I was able to catch up with Cigar City Brewing and Wayne Wambles after the festival and asked him some follow-up questions to the interview he gave Food GPS back in 2011.
How does it feel to be the People’s Choice winner at the Firestone Walker Invitational?
It’s quite flattering considering that the event invites the best craft breweries in the U.S. and beyond. I think that the majority of attendees voted for us due to the lack of availability. I don’t view it as a quality centric issue. Look at all the incredible breweries in the region. Not to mention, all the other beers that are being shipped in for distribution. I appreciate it and am humbled by it overall, however.
How has the canning line been working? Was it a hard or easy decision to add that aspect to the brewery?
The canning line has been working well. We have fine tuned it and continue to do so. I enjoy having cans as a packaging option. When seamed correctly, the can is awesome at preventing oxygen ingress. It’s a great option for hoppy and low gravity beers.
We bought the canning line from New Belgium a couple of years ago. We were intimidated regarding getting the line reassembled and running correctly but managed to make it function and found the right person for the job as well.
It was a tough decision overall. There were some doubts regarding how our distributors, retail accounts and consumers were going to respond to the change. We knew that cans were a superior package for our core brands.
There was quite a bit of contention from our consumers in the beginning. Some were dissatisfied with the can as an alternative package and wanted us to put our beer back in the bottle. They claimed that there was a quality and/or flavor issue. We tested the canned beer in our lab and assembled sensory panels, determining that the beer in the can was actually better quality and also had heightened aroma and flavor. It held up better over time as well.
Some restaurants had their concerns and I don’t doubt that we lost some retail accounts there. We actually showed some of the higher end restaurants how to conduct table service with a canned product. Some listened and some never gave it chance, feeling that the package itself had somehow sullied the product inside. They didn’t have to take our word for it. All they had to do was a little research to realize that it was a better package for the product.
We eventually made a public statement on our website, backing our belief in cans as a superior package for our product. Since, we have received fewer complaints.
We currently package four core brands in cans and have plans for many more in the near future.
We aren’t moving away from glass. I still think that it has its place in certain situations.
Just to shed light on our packaging capabilities, our canning line runs at 3,600 cans an hour and our bottling line fills 1,000 bottles an hour.
You have used quite a few non-traditional ingredients like grapefruit and cucumber in your beers. Do you feel a need to continue to top yourself?