Yet he couldn’t stop smiling, cracking a joke at every opportunity that came his way.
The jovial Crabtree was beaming because by that time he knew the efforts that led to the wreckage at his Crabtree Brewery — dark puddles of India pale ale stretching across the concrete floor, empty aluminum cans rolling in every direction, beer-soaked machinery — turned out to be a successful endeavor.
His beer was canned for the first time in the brewery’s history.
“Quite a day,” said Crabtree, whose business previously only sold its beer in bottles and growlers, or by the pint-size glass at the brewery. “It’s very exciting for us.”
Because of Wednesday afternoon’s eventual success, Crabtree’s Eclipse — a black India pale ale — will be available in 16-ounce “tall boy” aluminum cans at nine Greeley liquor stores starting today. Crabtree’s canned beer also will be available in Denver and in other cities along the Front Range.
“Canning our beer just opens things up for us more,” Crabtree said. “You have some limitations with selling just glass bottles, such as not being able to take those containers to certain places … which can cause you to lose some business here and there.”
On Wednesday, 1,800 cans were filled at the brewery during about a five-hour timespan, and Crabtree said he plans to do that many more today — hopefully much faster.
For more than five years, the local microbrewery — tucked away in an industrial part of east Greeley and nestled against the rail line that runs through downtown — has primarily served as an evening spot for those looking to unwind after a hard day’s work, or those eager to taste something new, different and local.
On Wednesday, though, the building was an experiment station thick with entrepreneurial zeal.
In canning beer at his brewery for the first time, Crabtree called on Longmont-based Mobile Canning to do the job. It was the first go-round for Mobile Canning — a business started by Pat Hartman and Rob Popma this past summer when both had grown tired of their jobs and quit to start something new.
To their knowledge, they’re the only business in the U.S. that provides such a service — traveling to smaller, local breweries with portable machinery to do the canning.
“What you’re seeing here today has never been done before, as far as we know,” said Hartman, who noted that there are businesses in California that do mobile bottling, and that there is another business in that state looking to start mobile canning in the near future, but no one is doing it just yet. “It’s something that’s really cool to be a part of, I think. Making history.”
Also on hand at the Crabtree Brewery were employees with Wild Goose Engineering out of Boulder. The company designed and built the MC-100 computerized and automated canning line that did the bulk of the work. The engineering company, which was started four years ago and earlier this year only had five employees but now has 18, has built eight canning machines so far, with the one used Wednesday in Greeley standing as the only one designed to be portable.
“We’re basically here today just to see how this process goes, see what we need to do to improve the process, see what needs to be tweaked,” said Alexis Foreman, vice president of Wild Goose Engineering who spearheaded the creation of the MC-100.
Foreman said his company is the only one in the nation building smaller, automated canning lines that are inexpensive enough to be purchased by smaller breweries.
He said one of the machines — about 8-feet long and 6-feet tall — costs about $65,000.
While it was technically a work day for those helping out with the endeavor, it had all the feel of a laid-back Friday evening at times. The dozen or so entrepreneurs on hand — many with shaggy hair, scruffy beards, piercings and tattoos — enjoyed themselves as they threw around terms like “safety valve,” “flows,” “PSI” and “fighting the elements of carbonation,” and laughed and joked as they were sprayed with brew early on, when the measurements weren’t exactly where they needed to be.
Crabtree said about three cases of beer were lost in the early trial-and-error process.
The radio played in the background. The Talking Heads’ “And She Was” wrapped up about the time Foreman announced the machine was “about ready to go.”
The smell of chili — whipped up by Crabtree himself — filled the air as it simmered one room over, and toasts were made when success came.
“I know when you take on something brand new like this, you’re probably supposed to be nervous. But it was just a fun day,” said Crabtree, whose wife, Stephanie, also helps operate the business, but was absent from the brewery Wednesday during the mayhem — on the road making deals.
Crabtree said he had never considered canning his beer in the past, simply because he didn’t have the storage space for the packaging materials — machinery, aluminum cans, labels, etc. — as his bottling supplies already take up his existing storage space. But since Mobile Canning provides the supplies and brings them to the job, the process is possible for Crabtree. He’s under contract with Mobile Canning to do 150,000 cans through next year.
“I know today was a little trial and error, but the end result is exactly what we were going for,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back at it tomorrow morning.”