Duncan O’Brien, Founder of Dalston Cola says:
Tell us about Dalston’s, yourselves and your ethos?
We think it’s the perfect time to offer craft soda in cans. Our range of premium canned soft drinks are made from carefully sourced ingredients – blended with the adult palate in mind – using fruit and spring water, as well as ingredients such as Sicilian lemons and oranges, cola nuts and a blend of spices.
We’re chefs that make drinks, and consider ourselves drinks makers rather than drinks marketers. First and foremost, our drinks are honestly made. Our training was all about taking the best ingredients and presenting them simply rather than messing around with them too much. By sourcing excellent, high quality ingredients, less sugar is needed. There’s a great deal of public consciousness and confusion around sugar right now, so this is an ideal time to offer premium soft drinks that contain less sugar. We’re proud to be the first of a new generation of ‘craft soda’ producers.
It’s all about ensuring that our ingredients are carefully sourced. We have good relationships with our suppliers and have kept a tight control of the supply chain – which is particularly important as the supply chain for soda can be complicated – sourcing ingredients from various parts of the world.
Why, when and how did you get into making soda?
The idea for Dalston’s was hatched in an East London club five years ago. I was working as a chef and in food sustainability and met another chef who had this idea of making craft cola. So, we teamed up to make craft cola into a business, and things grew from there. Our range of premium drinks in cans now features orangeade, lemonade and cola.
We’d seen what was happening across the new wave of premium foods and drinks and felt soda was rather neglected. We wanted to bring about a revolution in taste and quality, so we got busy and built a company from the ground up – working with growers & suppliers to source excellent quality, honest ingredients that transform the taste of soda drinks.
What makes your drinks special?
Right from the start, we’ve set-about developing drinks and flavours that will appeal to the adult palate – moving away from soda pop-style drinks to authentic sodas made from carefully sourced, high quality ingredients.
Who buys your canned soda? Where do you sell it?
Adults buy our canned drinks in cafes, bars and restaurants – mainly in London but this is starting to spread out to other towns now. Ocado will be selling our sodas very soon and Waitrose is stocking them from late June.
How did you first get into canning and how are you currently canning your soda?
The big push to put our soda in cans came from our Managing Director, Dan Broughton, who was inspired by the success of craft beer in cans, so knew there was a fantastic opportunity. Also, our premises were originally next to Beavertown Brewery so we witnessed first-hand what this craft brewery was doing with cans.
There are such fantastic design options available for can labels now, and we particularly like the matt finish. Designers can have plenty of fun with the can’s branding and packaging, which is great news for our soda range. We work closely with the canner Cott Beverages.
What are the biggest benefits of canning your soda?
There are so many benefits when canning. They chill down quicker and cans are more compact, plus they don’t break. Distribution is easier too, and cans are easier for people to carry around with them. Then there’s the sustainable quality of cans as they are completely recyclable – taking less energy than glass to be recycled.
Any advice for other soda/soft drink makers wanting to get into canning?
It’s important to allow plenty of lead time if you’re planning to work with any of the larger canners, as there’s a great deal of preparation and paperwork involved, especially during the set-up period. We managed to do this in just three months from initial meeting to first production run, and were very lucky that Cott Beverages could work with us in such a short timeframe.
What’s been your proudest moment at Dalston’s?
The proudest moment has been watching our team develop professionally as we scale-up the business. We’ve trained our people throughout this process, with many of the team being with us since we started out, and some of these long-standing colleagues are now running our new-look logistics & supply chain.
What’s next for Dalston’s?
Well, we have plenty of new drinks to develop, and are busy visiting new fruit farms to look-into the possibility of sourcing some more soft fruits. We want to focus on growing in the UK, and are already exporting to Benelux, so who knows where we might go from here…
Josh White, Marketing Director at CanOWater, says:
Tell us about CanOWater, yourselves and your ethos?
CanOWater started when three best friends decided to change the way people drink water. We wanted to create an alternative to plastic, as we’re incredibly concerned about the damage being caused to our oceans. Our water targets 18-30 year olds who care about the environment and their health. They are also more open to changing the way they drink water.
We’re a young, disruptive company; forward-thinking entrepreneurs on a mission to change people’s perception about drinking water. We’re finding that talking to consumers at events is a great way to achieve this. We’re continually striving to improve the brand as well as finding different ways to get the environmental message across. Whilst the focus is firmly on producing great tasting water, the main purpose of CanOWater is centred on solving the huge issue of protecting our planet.
Why, when and how did you get into canning water?
Putting our water into aluminium cans has so many advantages – the main one being that it’s so much better for the environment, plus our water stays fresher for longer as it’s protected from light and air. Our big break came once we talked to Selfridges who are forward thinking and enthusiastic supporters of the can. This amazing opportunity happened before we’d even started producing CanOWater. Since then the demand has spiralled and having a big corporation stocking our water has helped enormously.
What makes your water different/special?
CanOWater is the first cool-looking canned mineral water available from a craft brand, and it’s infinitely recyclable. A resealable tab also makes it refillable and resealable. There’s no other water on the market that looks quite like ours.
We’ve sourced the best quality water we could find, whose taste is further enhanced by its high 7.9 PH level together with the sterile pipes used for the water’s journey from source to the manufacturer. The choice of pipes is particularly crucial when you’re dealing with mineral water, to avoid any tainting that could result.
Who buys your water? Where do you sell it?
Our brand appeals to young, environmentally conscious adults (18-30 year olds). It also appeals to 14-16 year olds – mainly because teenagers want to look particularly cool and, as CanOWater has an Apple-esque feel, this fits nicely into their minimalist ‘iPhone look’.
CanOWater is available in Selfridges, Whole Foods, As Nature Intended, Ocado and Sourced Market (Kings Cross Station). We also sell in boutique hotels & independent cafes, a few hairdressers, event spaces and media houses.
We’ve recently partnered with Fraser Yachts too, an integral part of the yachting community who share our commitment to protecting the oceans. So, we’re now also their official water when transporting people, in style, around the world.
Gyms are a new focus, having just installed a big, cool CanOWater fridge at 1Rebel, as part of its campaign to ‘Can the Bottle’, whilst also encouraging other gyms to start using canned water. And it doesn’t stop there…we’re about to launch at 3,500 Watsons pharmacy stores across China.
What are the biggest benefits of canning?
The biggest advantage of using aluminium cans has to be around their recyclability, with metal having the potential to be recycled over and over again infinitely without losing its quality. Almost 75% of metal packaging is recycled in Europe, making the can the most recycled pack type out there. Metal cans also save on raw materials, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. So, they are altogether a lot smarter as well as futuristic – which appeals to our audience.
What’s been your greatest challenge during the canning process?
The only real issue we’ve had is around can colour. Originally, we wanted a bright white but printing white on aluminium isn’t an easy thing to achieve. We’ve now gone down the HD/base printing route to get our bright white, which is more of matt finish and looks great.
What’s been your proudest moment?
There have been many proud moments, but I guess the one that stands out is when the three of us were sitting with the head buyer at Selfridges and they told us they wanted our water. It was such an incredible feeling.
What’s next for CanOWater? …
CanOWater is very much an umbrella for different brands, flavours and sizes, so we’ll be exploring some new options which you’ll see launching very soon. We’re also looking to produce some metal flasks to carry drinks around in.
Any advice for other soft drink makers wanting to get into canning?
Like many others, we’ve learned the hard way, especially with regards to using middle men. If you know the right people, you can be resourceful, get better deals, and handle everything yourself, which is usually far more cost-effective. The best piece of advice I can give is that once you’ve got a great idea – just run with it and never look back…
Russell Bisset, Director at Northern Monk, says:
Tell us about Northern Monk, yourselves and your ethos?
We started Northern Monk in 2013 and we initially used other brewery facilities to get started. We collaborated with other breweries to get going but we found that we wanted more control over the quality of the product.
I decided to start looking for premises so we could truly achieve what we wanted as a brewery. It had to be somewhere in the north that had character, that celebrated the northern industrial heritage and craftsmanship whilst being quintessentially British.
Why and how did you get into brewing?
I came up with the idea for Northern Monk Brewers in 2008 with a colleague. We entered an entrepreneur’s competition and did really well but didn’t quite win.
At the time, in our opinion, there was no one doing anything particularly progressive with beer and there was a bit of a negative stigma around beer as well. I saw this as a market opportunity. We want to be progressive but still British when it comes to our branding, the ingredients we use and our brewing processes.
I continued with the day job but wanted to escape the corporate world and in 2013, my gran sold her property and split the money between the grandchildren. I decided to use my £5,000 to start the brewery – I soon found £5k is not enough! We managed to secure extra seed funding from the Business Enterprise fund and worked farmers markets selling beer to get going.
How did you first get into canning your products? Why did you choose to use cans?
Cans are a fairly obvious choice for us. We were inspired by the US market where cans have been a go-to for Craft Breweries for some time. Cans give us a better, 360-degree canvas for our brand so we can reflect our character in our packaging. They’re better for the beer as well as it protects from light and UV. They are also lightweight and have environmental benefits because they are infinitely recyclable.
Cans as a packaging option also echo our brand passion for the outdoors. You can take cans out on a hike and they really match our ethos of evolution and tradition. The can completely embraces that.
In 10 years’ time, there won’t be many glass bottles on the market as glass simply won’t be around – cans are the future.
How are you currently canning your beer?
We use a Wild Goose Line to can our beers. It’s an automated system, producing 330ml and 440ml cans, that’s completely in house. We chose to keep it in house to keep control over the production. We’ve grown so rapidly that we now in fact have two production sites. We also use mobile canning if we have a backlog to get through, and luckily, we have a good relationship with the canners we use.
What’s been your proudest moment?
I think gaining recognition from some of our peers has been special, particularly from the Alchemist in the US (one of the first companies to put beers in cans). We visited them and shared some samples and their founder John Kimmich, who is a bit of a hero of ours, was impressed. When he came to the UK, he then asked for more samples. Which we happily provided.
What’s next for you?
We are doing some exciting things with our packaging. We are the first brewery to use a peel and reveal label on a can from CS Labels and they’re going down well with our customers at the moment. The peel and reveal format means we can have a clean front cover showcasing the art with more details on the beer on the inside. We are currently looking at other innovative elements to add to our packaging.
We’ve grown in capacity by 750% in last two and half years. With such quick growth, there have been a few headaches and we are finding out feet but we are expecting even further expansion.
What advice would you give to brewers looking to get into canning?
Just go for it. Cans are the future. The global beer market will soon see all products in cans and less and less of the glass bottle.
Windsor & Eton Brewery
Paddy Johnson, Head Brewer at Windsor & Eton, says:
Tell us about Windsor & Eton and about yourselves
Windsor & Eton brewery was set up seven years ago by four friends, all of whom had previously worked for the big brewers or within the food industry. We wanted to do our own thing and have some fun rather than just working for the faceless ‘machine’. So, we don’t have big ambitions for our brewery to grow quickly and then be sold-off. Our focus has been to build a stable, sustainable, family business that’s well respected by brewers and customers whilst challenging the industry and product conventions. We’re on a mission to make Windsor more famous for its beer than any other attraction.
When and how did you get into brewing?
I started in brewing back in 1979 at the original Courage brewery by Tower Bridge – straight out of University, clutching my degree in Biology. I loved it from day one and decided to get properly trained-up by taking an MSc in Brewing, followed by industry examinations so, I’m now a Master Brewer. I’ve worked for nine breweries across the UK and have also gained some experience in breweries abroad. Windsor and Eaton is my first experience of working in a small scale Craft brewery.
Uprising has an interesting story behind it. Can you tell us about it?
Windsor and Eton has been quick to establish a reputation for traditional cask, keg and bottle beers but we also wanted to create a brand that would appeal to the exciting and emerging market of new-wave craft beers. My son, Kieran, joined the brewery four years ago and was really interested in all aspects of the craft beer scene, as well as cooking. So we let him to try out some edgy recipes under the brand “Uprising”. The name and imagery of this brand depicts young brewers at the brewery as Ravens flying off with the brewing crown, doing things in their own way and disregarding the Old Guard. These craft beers have been an instant success and can now be found nationally, in a range of establishments, from Wetherspoon’s to Waitrose. The beers are designed for beer aficionados, most notably the Christmas beer, ScumBag Maggot (a line from The Pogues’ Christmas hit ‘Fairy-tale in New York’) which is designed to represent lead singer Shane McGowan, in a bottle; Imperial stout, laid down and aged in wooden Irish whiskey barrels and finished with Juniper berries!
How did you first get into canning?
On the back of critical acclaim for Uprising’s Treason West Coast IPA, we were asked to enter it into a canned beer competition. A very small volume was packaged especially for this purpose and it did incredibly well in what’s considered THE competition for craft beer, in cans, the UK – The Indie Beer can. It won Best Ale in Can; Best New Beer in can; and finally Best Overall Beer in can – effectively sweeping the board. The beer also won Gold medals with SIBA and at the International Beer Challenge. As a result of all these wins, and the excitement it was causing amongst consumers, we were asked to supply the beer in can for every JD Wetherspoon in the country. Since then, distribution has grown with M&S having recently taken a large delivery.
What would you say are the biggest benefits of canning your beers?
Canned beer has two main advantages: From a quality point of view the complete lack of light interaction is pretty useful in what is a very heavily hopped product (therefore susceptible to ‘light- strike’ flavours); Also, a complete seal means that if we get the product packaged with low dissolved oxygen, the beer’s stability is very good.
From a marketing point of view, cans are really attractive, with great branding coverage across the whole pack. Furthermore, cans are easy to carry and very light-weight, making them perfect to drink at festivals and concerts – just where our consumers want to enjoy a contemporary beer.
How are you currently canning your beer?
As we don’t (yet) have our own can line, we tanker the beer off-site to our good friends at Fourpure Brewery in Bermondsey. Their technical knowledge has been second to none and, as with most craft brewers, they are extremely collaborative.
What’s been your greatest challenge during the canning process?
We’ve had to learn how to present beer to the canning line that has low enough dissolved oxygen and yeast count levels. This means extreme attention to detail, every step of the way, with nothing left to chance.
What’s been the proudest moment in your brewing history?
In 2016, Windsor and Eton’s Republika won gold medal in the lager category at the SIBA awards as well as silver in Best overall in show- only to be pipped at the post by Uprising’s Treason, which won gold for best Strong Ale and gold for Best Overall in show. If you’re going to have one of your beers beaten, it’s always best for it to be by your son’s beer, and the other beer brand in the Company!
What’s the future for Windsor & Eton? What comes next?
We’re in the process of commissioning additional capacity (+27%) here at the brewery, which follows similar increases every year since we started brewing. We’ll be using this additional capacity to extend our range and supply. We’re also really involved in developing our first pub – The George in Eton – as well as our brewery bar and visitor centre. (Kieran is already launching some of the most popular Uprising beers in bottles, with both “White Riot”- White Pale Ale and “Wasteland” Double IPA, being produced for Waitrose). In addition, Kieran is working on Monthly Specials, offering plenty of interesting choices, the best of which we are hoping will end up in a can! We’re also planning to have a craft bar in town, with ‘old gits’ like me likely to enjoy it as much as the hipsters!
What advice do you have for breweries looking to get into canning?
Research your market; where are you going to sell the beer and at what price point? In-house canning isn’t something you can achieve with very small volumes so you need to understand your market and get on the first rung for the can volumes required.
In 2014, Dan Bonner, owner of microbrewery, Concrete Cow, entered his beer, Dirty Cow, into the Indie Beer Can Festival. Chosen as one of twelve finalists, from more than 100 entries, Dan began to explore canning as a long-term option shortly after the event. He is now the proud owner of the title ‘smallest canning brewery in the UK’. We catch up with him here to find out how he’s doing.
Tell us about Concrete Cow
Concrete Cow Brewery was set up eight years ago following five homebrew kit efforts, the first of which was a Christmas present. We are based in Milton Keynes which has two prominent features … loads of roundabouts and the “infamous” Concrete Cows. ‘Roundabout Brewery’ just didn’t have the same ring to it so it had to be named after the cows! I wanted to create an iconic signature beer from my town that I and other people would enjoy and feel proud of. It had to be ‘true craft’ which for me means unfiltered and unpasteurised as a true craftsman wouldn’t want to compromise his or her product just for the sake of increased sales and longevity.
When did you start canning and why?
MK IPA was first brewed in July 2015 specifically for cans … I made the decision after reaching the finals of the inaugural Indie Beer Can Festival the year before with another of the Concrete Cow brews. Having seen my beer packaged in cans for the occasion, there was with a heart thumping realisation a few months on, and after looking into it, that it was actually possible for me to can my own beer. After seeing big brand beer packaged in cans since I can remember, it was literally the most exciting moment of my working life.
Once you’d decided to go ahead and can, what was your next step?
The deposit was placed for the canning machine on Christmas Eve 2014 … I’d decided that craft beer had a big future in cans and I wanted to be part of it. Craft beer compliments cans, and cans compliment craft beer. Six months of anticipation and excitement followed. In that time my preparations for canning were made; I bought a new fermenting vessel and many other necessary bits of equipment … I even tracked my new machine across the Atlantic using a marine vessel tracking website.
What’s the reception been like to your canned beer?
The reception to my first canned beer, MK IPA has been nothing short of my dream response. The beer itself has had the best feedback I could have imagined, and the fact that it is in cans has been welcomed and accepted by so many customers. It has completely endorsed my decision to go down the canning route. Within the first four months of canning, MK IPA is almost brewed in equal quantity to all my other beers added together. It was the best business decision I ever made … and you can quote me on that!
Has it opened up any new opportunities for you?
Most of the new opportunities for MK IPA are still to be opened I think. Having established the beer very successfully on a local basis, and with the cans repeatedly selling in specialist and national outlets close to the brewery, I’ve now just started to look further afield. The early signs are outstanding. I think for MK IPA the door is only just beginning to open.
What have been the key benefits of canning for Dirty Cow?
The key benefit, from a business point of view, is that I now have a clearer defined direction for my product to go in, one that I’m convinced from early signs is craved by craft beer enthusiasts. Quality craft beer is screaming to be put into can and punters are right behind it. I feel that I’ve identified early on how people increasingly like their beer to be packaged in a can. Getting involved in the movement early on is a major benefit because I’m giving my customers what they want.
What comes next?
Next year will see the growth of Concrete Cow canned beers with a second brand on the horizon and a new member of the Concrete Cow brewing team starting in January. After that, who knows what the limits are?
Tell us about Beavertown
We started in the back of Duke’s Brew and Que in Haggerston, though at the beginning ‘we’ were just Logan plus whoever arrived at the door with enough enthusiasm to help with the brews! Eventually Logan was joined by James and from there we started adding to the original range (Smog Rocket, Neck oil and 8 Ball) created to pair with the BBQ food at Duke’s.
Growing involved a lot of trials, testing and experimenting; and a lot of feedback! Luckily we have had a consistently incredible brewing team, eager to learn from the get-go.
Now Beavertown is well known for its artwork, but back then we were a blank slate. James approached me and offered the opportunity to design the first couple of bottle labels, (that eventually led to designing cans) and I accepted, not realising where it would take not only me, but Beavertown in general.
Why did you start canning?
There were a number of reasons, but first and foremost it was because of the incredible quality benefits our beer enjoys as a result of being in a can.
Previous to canning we were hand bottling, hand labeling and bottle conditioning the beer ourselves. When the beer was first ready it tasted fantastic, but we were finding it was a different beer two weeks down the line. This was due to light penetration and oxygen getting into the bottle. Using a can alleviated both of these issues for us; the consistency we get from canning means that when we release a beer we deem great, it stays great all the way to its final destination.
It’s also great to have an item to put artwork all over; the scope for design is much greater with a can
We take cues from the American craft beer world. Logan is regularly over in the USA, chatting to breweries like Oskar Blues which are almost 100% canned, learning as much as possible from them and bringing his knowledge home. We also had a lot of advice from Camden who started canning just before us – we are lucky to exist within an incredible community of craft breweries.
What have the toughest challenges been?
Maintaining the perception people had of us when we were still 8 people, sharing couches as work spaces and working across a totally-non-health-and-safety-compliant mezzanine in Hackney Wick. It’s a perception that ties to the workd ‘craft’.
Unfortunately, as you grow people assume your quality will dip – which is not unheard of, so the attitude is understandable. For us craft is about keeping everything in-house and communicating everything to everyone. Twitter has been great for that. They were baffled at the canning factory when I wanted to show the world our prototypes via Twitter, but being inclusive is proving the way forward. We would never try to ostracise or be exclusive to anybody.
What has been your biggest highlight?
Honestly, they have been so frequent it’s hard to pin point one. Every time we can a new beer it’s like our village hero has returned from a successful conquest. We’ve won a few awards which is very rewarding… but I just have to go the cheesy route and say that every day something pretty great happens.
What lessons have you learned?
Far too many to list; hopefully our learnings show in the consistency and quality of the beer we create. In general I think one of the biggest lessons we can share is that when things go wrong, put your hands up and sort it out the best way that you can. People are so incredibly supportive when you are honest, but can grow defensive, quickly, if they think you are being evasive.
What advice would you give to start-up breweries?
Again, be as honest as you can.
If you are in charge of something / heavily involved in a project, then speak up when you don’t like something. There has to be a balance and you need to demonstrate your personality in everything you do, not just ask yourself what other people want. More often than not, people will sense and gravitate towards the more personal choice.