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!
Do you have a recommended food pairing for your MKA?
Personally, I like to enjoy MK IPA without food so the whole raw hoppy freshness can be enjoyed and savoured. The beer is light golden and full of wild, dry citrusy sweet grapefruit. But if peckish and pushed, I’d suggest a light bite of spicy tempura garlic prawns, tail on, or sweetcorn and fresh coriander fritters (for vegans), both with sweet chilli dipping sauce and a crisp fresh shredded cucumber salad dressed and lime vinaigrette. Simple, refreshing and packed with flavour … just like the beer.
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?
To read more about this year’s Indie Beer Can Festival and to enter your brew into our competition, check out our website – http://indiebeercan.co.uk/