Joseph Haggard (pictured) and his wife Michelle Haggard got into the beer business about a year ago when they bought a manual canning system that Joseph then modified using his knowledge from an electrical engineering degree and his time in the field. He hopes to upgrade in the next year. Photos courtesy of Crossroads Mobile Canning
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
If you choose to look up the meaning of “crossroads” in the dictionary, you’ll find both a literal definition and a metaphorical one. Or, to save time, you can listen to the narrative of Joseph and Michelle Haggard.
“There’s his story and my story,” Michelle explained when asked about how Crossroads Mobile Canning got its name.
“Which one do you want?” Joseph asked.
I opted for both.
Michelle started, “Over the last five of six years, we’ve wanted to get into the beer industry somehow. We’d looked at several properties off and on, and unfortunately we just didn’t have the capital to actually do it ourselves. There was a property off of Portland Road (in Salem) and I was like, ‘You know, that’d be a really nice place for a taphouse — right there, right on the corner — lots of traffic … and I think I would call it Crossroads.’ That never came to fruition, so when we had this idea for the canning, I still liked the name.”
Joseph added, “That’s her story. Mine was because I became disabled. I lost my job — they let me go. I was at a crossroads in my life. I didn’t want to lay down and die, so…”
A business was born.
Just about a year ago, the Haggards were sitting at Edgefield, watching wine move through a mobile bottling line. Their own wheels got turning, and they realized they knew a lot of breweries in the Salem area and wondered if mobile canning lines existed. After doing some research and discovering both Northwest Canning and Craft Canning + Bottling in Portland, they decided to go for it.
“That’s how it started that one day — the coolness of watching them bottle wine from a trailer,” Michelle said.
When it came time to choosing the right machine, the couple decided on a manual canning system from Cask Brewing Systems in Canada that can accommodate both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cans.
“I was a field service engineer before all this, and the electronics on it were like I had invented it. I’d researched all those other machines and this one’s put together the best. It’s like someone from the field designed it instead of an engineer behind a desk that’s never worked a day in his life in the field,” Joseph said.
“And it’s pretty, too.”
While Michelle isn’t quite as involved in the business— she has a full-time job as a medical laboratory technician —she does help with canning on the weekends and contributes a lot of great ideas, such as designing a few labels for brewers and printing them on the couple’s Primera LX900 color label printer. However, Joseph does about 90 percent of the footwork.
With his electronic engineering degree and background working with voltages of medical and laboratory equipment, Joseph knew that if anything were to go wrong with this machine, he could repair it, because it’s a 220-volt system.
Ever the handyman, Joseph even added wheels to the machine and had it shortened 16 inches. Firstly, to make it fit into their 6-by-12 cargo trailer, and secondly, to make it easier on his body.
“I can’t stand all day, so sitting at it was just the right thing to do.”
Joseph also bought a generator just in case, which makes Crossroads totally mobile now.
So, why did the Haggards choose to go with canning as opposed to bottling?
The duo looked into both, but felt that cans seemed to be the way to go at the time and were growing in popularity with the industry. Their lighter weight and the fact that the entire package is fully recyclable drew them in as well.
“There still seems to be a stigma — it’s just a matter of changing people’s minds about it and pushing the ecological stuff. Plus, if you take it backpacking, you don’t have to worry about bottles breaking or anything like that,” Joseph said.
“It’s a good thing we did, because I don’t think homebrewers would come to me to bottle their beer — they can do it at home.”
But that doesn’t mean they always want to.
Case in point: the hundreds of homebrewers the Haggards have canned for since opening up for business in December 2014.
Keizer-based PBH Brewing — Mike Bauer, Bill Herring and Aaron Pittis — were the first homebrewers to use Crossroads, canning their Red Sled IPA. PBH usually brews 25 gallons at a time, six to 10 times a year. They’ve canned with the Haggards three times so far — around 60 gallons of beer total.
“The cans are a lot easier to store. I don’t have to clean bottles — no cleanup at the end,” Pittis said.
When asked if he would recommend Crossroads to other homebrewers, Pittis’ response was an immediate “Yes, yes, yes. Joe is great to work with and we will continue to use him.”
Endorsement for Crossroads also comes from the two aforementioned fellow mobile canning businesses. Both Justin Brandt of Northwest Canning and Owen Lingley of Craft Canning + Bottling point quite a few homebrewers in the direction of the Haggards.
“Anything that’s too small for them, they send our way,” Joseph said.
Crossroads’ first official canning was actually with an already-established brewery — Vagabond Brewing in Salem.
“Vagabond was gracious enough to host us and we canned 6 barrels of their Into the Wild IPA,” Joseph said.
It was the first canned beer in Salem in 50-some years, so in a sense, Crossroads brought canning back to the state’s capital.
According to the Haggards, there’s “a ton of interest” from some of the smaller commercial breweries in Oregon, but most of them seem to be waiting until they get a little bigger and can produce more beer.
For now, the couple has been keeping busy by hosting monthly canning events for homebrewers at locations all over the state, such as F.H. Steinbart Co., Homebrew Exchange and Hi-Wheel Wine & Mead Co. in Portland, as well as Claim 52 in Eugene and Redmond Craft Brewing Supply.
“Of course, we’re always willing to just do it here (in Keizer) if none of those locations or times meet anybody’s needs,” Michelle adds.
Or, they’ll come to you — Joseph clocked in about 1,500 miles of traveling during the month of August.
Within the next year, the Haggards plan on upgrading from their current manual system to a semi-automated unit with four filler heads and two seamers that would put out triple what they’re doing now.
If all goes well, Michelle would like to be at another sort of crossroads in her life.
“Hopefully, we’d like to make this my full-time job. Get busy enough so that I can switch gears. I’ve been doing the laboratory work since 1978. It’s been a great career — really, no complaints — but I’m to the point where something different would be wonderful. To be able to work with him, side by side…”
“We have a lot of fun doing that,” Joseph concluded.
Crossroads Mobile Canning
[a] 671 Wayne Drive N., Keizer
Northwest Canning’s Justin Brandt displays his faster new Cime Careddu canning line.
Photo by Alethea Smartt LaRowe
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Opportunities for small breweries to distribute their beer have grown significantly over the past few years with the introduction of companies that specialize in mobile canning and bottling. Wild Goose Canning in Boulder, Colo. was the first U.S. firm to manufacture a canning line that was specifically designed to be hauled around to different breweries. In the Pacific Northwest, the first company to invest in one of their lines was Northwest Canning, started by Justin Brandt and a business partner in late 2011. A few months later, in June 2012, Owen Lingley debuted Craft Canning. Both are based in Portland.
An avid outdoorsman, Brandt had noticed the limited availability of canned craft beers while purchasing supplies for a day on the river. He quickly did some market research and put together a business plan, opening Northwest Canning less than a year later. With work experience as a financial advisor and with a degree in biology, Brandt said he “can really help the breweries we work with from a financial standpoint, but I also understand beer on a molecular level.” Now the sole owner of the company, Brandt has four other full time employees and hires part-time labor as needed while traveling into parts of Idaho and all over Oregon and Washington.
Owen Lingley’s work experience at Wyeast Laboratories, where he provided retail support by educating customers all about yeast, required extensive travel. As he visited brewers around the country, he saw the shift to cans coming. Anticipating the need of established breweries to increase volume, he saw an opportunity to use his knowledge of packaging and product handling to serve them in the fast-growing market of mobile canning and bottling. Operating within a three-hour radius of Portland, Craft Canning now has nine employees.
Northwest Canning started out with a small two-head filler, the Wild Goose MC-50, which could can about 20 cases per hour. As business increased, Brandt later purchased a three-head filler with a capacity of 40 cases per hour. Even that proved to be insufficient for his ever-growing list of clients and he recently invested almost $1 million in a fully-automated rotary system made by Cime Careddu of Italy that is capable of canning 160 cases per hour. The high-end line is installed in a custom-built 40-foot trailer, which also houses an on-board generator that supplies all of the power, a depalletizer, a filling unit, an inspection unit, and a packaging unit made by PakTech in Eugene.
Craft Canning currently operates a Wild Goose MC-250 canning line which Lingley hauls around in a 16-foot box truck. The system has to be offloaded and assembled then taken apart and reloaded after every job. Lingley estimates the line has produced three million cans of beer and is now averaging 1200-1500 barrels per month. The line is usually in operation for nine days in a row, then Lingley schedules one “spa day” for equipment maintenance. He also has a Meheen 6-head bottler capable of bottling eight barrels per hour.
One of the key benefits of working with mobile canning and bottling operations is cost. “For a brewery to purchase a modest canning system, you’re looking at around a $200,000 investment,” said Brandt. And that’s before paying the employees and allocating enough space to house the line and store the empty cans and bottles.
Both companies are working hard to keep up with demand. According to Brandt, “Northwest Canning has almost tripled our sales since opening. We’re doing 20,000-25,000 cases a month, so we’re busy. We’re just focused on hiring and training people right now.” Lingley said that Craft Canning has experienced 140% growth this year and is projecting 100% growth next year. “We just purchased a second bottling line and have our second canning line on order, and we’re already looking at a third of each.” Lingley also has plans to start a yeast lab, can their homebrew yeast, and do more QA testing for clients.
Owner: Justin Brandt
Craft Canning + Bottling
[a] 17252 NE Sacramento St., Portland
Owner: Owen Lingley
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.