Big Sky Brewing Company will soon offer its signature Moose Drool and Trout Slayer beers in cans.
“We expect to see them in Missoula and throughout western Montana probably somewhere in March or April-ish, and then we’ll expand from there,” says Neal Leathers, Big Sky’s president and co-founder.
Big Sky’s always been interested in canning its beer, but finding the right equipment proved difficult.
“We’re too big for some of the smaller canning operations, like what the Kettlehouse has, and you went from that size up to what the big boys use,” says Leathers. “There wasn’t much in between.”
That’s changed with the arrival of the Mastercan rotary can filler made by Sympak, an item Big Sky purchased last month. While relatively slow—it’s about a sixth the speed of Big Sky’s bottling operation—the Mastercan is able to limit the amount of oxygen in the can, thus extending the beer’s shelf life. It’s the same machine that fellow Western craft beer maker New Belgium Brewing Company uses.
“If it was good enough for them,” Leathers says, “we figured it was probably good enough for us.”
Big Sky’s 12-ounce cans will share the shelves with those from the Kettlehouse, which introduced its 16-ouncers to the Missoula area in 2006. Both breweries are targeting a niche market of Montana beer drinkers who prefer local craft beer and the practicality of a recyclable, non-breakable container, good for all sorts of outdoor pursuits.
The entire operation is costing Big Sky about $1 million. Leathers acknowledges the hefty investment, but says the company is selling more beer than it ever has. He’s more concerned with the rising cost of hops, which, according to Leathers, has skyrocketed from about $5 per pound to upwards of $20.