By Paul Elwell
Starting in mid-May, fans of Big Grove Brewery, 1225 S. Gilbert St., will get the chance to enjoy its signature brews straight off grocery and supermarket shelves.
Big Grove recently set up a canning line at its Iowa City location, capable of filling up to 70 cans per minute. These beer will be seen in such stores as Hy-Vee, Fareway, John’s, and other local retailers next month.
Big Grove opened its first location in 2013 in Solon. Last year, it opened the doors on South Gilbert.
“Cans have been on our minds from the beginning,” head brewer Andy Joynt said. “We wanted to get things running smoothly here first before we started to can.”
The brewery will begin by launching only a single canned beer, aptly named the First Launch, after James Van Allen, a world-famous space scientist who taught at the University of Iowa.
Subsequent to the release of the First Launch, four more Big Grove beers will hit the shelves, including West Main Wheat ale, Boomtown Premium cream ale, Arms Race pale ale, and West Coast-style IPA.
Starting with only one beer will give the brewery a chance to “get out there and learn in the small run,” Joynt said.
He is still unsure of how the canning process will affect the initial quantity of beer being brewed. This is likely something the staff members will have to learn as they go, he said.
There are approximately 90 breweries in the state. Of these, fewer than 10 package their beer for retail.
Big Grove opted to can its beer over bottling. Jay Wilson, the minister of beer at the Iowa Brewers Guild, said this was a good decision.
“Cans are really good,” he said. “Better than bottles in several ways. Sunlight can’t penetrate them, so there won’t be any skunky flavor. When a can is sealed, nothing can penetrate it.”
Wilson noted further benefits of canning beer, such as its ability to keep oxygen out of the can if sealed well.
Consumers look forward to the release of Big Grove’s line of canned beer, as shown on their Facebook pages. Not only are they excited about the chance to pick up one of Big Grove’s brews from the shelves of local stores, many also hope the cans will roll out across the state and beyond.
Joynt said that is something the staff will look into in the future, but for now, the beer will be limited to the local area.
One consumer and beer critic, styling himself as Ben “Beerbaron,” author of the online blog Iowa Beer Baron, looks forward to the release. (He declined to use his real name for publication.)
Ben places Big Grove among the top breweries in the state and has faith that its marketing and management teams will make sure that the entrance to retail is done right.
“Big Grove is up there with the best. They hit on every style well, with great, fresh ingredients,” he said. “I’m excited about it. Iowa beer has a great future. I hope people continue to support their local breweries.”