With aluminum cans gaining in popularity, you may be questioning if canning your homebrew is feasible.
Homebrewers are able to can their beer at home by purchasing a can seamer and empty aluminum cans and lids and carbonating the beer inside the can using the same process as bottling. Compared to bottling, canning equipment is substantially more expensive and a little harder to find but it is possible to get started for around $500.
Even with the associated costs, it is, in fact, possible to can your brew at home. Read on to learn more about how canning works, its benefits, and what it takes to set up a canning line in your own home… even on a budget.
Is it possible to can homebrew beer?
Yes, it is possible to can your homebrew!
Much like bottling, beer is ready to can after fermentation is complete. Unlike bottling, you’ll need to make a fairly substantial equipment investment to get started.
Here is the basic equipment you’ll need to get started with canning your homebrew beer:
- Can Seamer: The largest, most costly piece of equipment in the canning process is the can seamer. Quite simply, this is the machine that puts the lid (or end) on your can. In a production facility, can seamers can take up huge amounts of space, but there are tabletop models designed for home use. These can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, which is a heck of a lot compared to a $15 bottle capper.
- Cans: Okay, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth noting that aluminum cans almost always have to be bought in bulk. Most can manufacturers only sell by the pallet, which isn’t realistic for homebrewers so you’ll have to find a homebrew supply store that sells them in smaller quantities. You’ll also need to decide which size and shape of cans to get. 12oz is traditional, but you can also try 16oz tallboys, slim cans, or even 32oz growlers. Read your Can Seamer’s manual to determine which sizes and shapes of cans it can accomodate.
- Ends/Lids: When ordering cans, be sure you include an equal amount of can ends! Some can suppliers will include them, some will make you buy them separately. Also, bear in mind that there are different sizes and types of lids, so be sure to order the right ones for both your can and can seamer.
- Optional: CO2 Tank: In addition to the basics, most homebrewers find it best to flush their cans with CO2 before canning. This ensures little to no oxygen ends up in your cans spoiling your batch. There are many ways to flush with CO2 but the most common is to invest in a CO2 tank and small kegging system. You can use this same system to force carbonate your beer during the canning process.
Can you carbonate beer in a can?
If the idea of CO2 flushing feels like a bridge too far, the good news is you can condition beer in a can the same way you do in a bottle.
Much like bottle conditioning, you’ll need to add a small, measured amount of priming sugar to each can before filling. This will give your yeast a bit more to do, leading to slightly more alcohol but more importantly, carbonation, when you open the can.
There is the same danger of over or under fermenting your brew as you can in a bottle. If you don’t add enough priming sugar to each can, or if your yeast have died off before canning, your brew will come out flat and sweet. If you add too much sugar, or if your beer was not fully fermented before canning, you risk your can swelling or potentially even exploding.
Benefits to canning homebrew beer
With all the money and risk involved, you may be wondering, is canning beer at home really worth it? Despite the laundry list of warnings, there are a lot of benefits to packaging your beer in cans over glass bottles or kegs.
- Cans are light. The weight difference of a 50-can batch over a 50-bottle batch is significant. This may make a welcome difference, especially if you’re regularly transporting your beer up flights of stairs or placing it on a high shelf.
- Cans are easy to clean and fill. Because the entire end of a can is open prior to filling and sealing, it’s much quicker and easier to fill your cans with sanitizer solution (and beer!) than it is to do the same for a set of bottles.
- Cans are portable, disposable, and recyclable. No more worrying about tossing your homebrew in a bag, or fear of breaking a glass bottle on your patio. Cans can go anywhere. And because they’re a one-time use item, you don’t have to have that awkward moment where you ask your friend for your bottle back. Just throw that can in the recycling and open the next one!
- Cans chill faster. The faster your beer chills, the sooner you can drink it. Plain and simple.
- Cans tell you when they’re ready. If you’re can conditioning, your can will likely feel a little squishy when you first fill it. Over time, as your beer carbonates, the CO2 that develops puts pressure on the sides of the can, causing them to firm up and feel like a can you’d buy at the store. Once your cans are firm, they’re ready to drink!
How do you can homebrew beer at home?
So you bit the bullet and ordered up a Can Seamer and a bunch of shiny cans and lids. You’ve done your research and now you’re ready to get started. How exactly does one can beer at home again?
1 – Brew and ferment your beer according to the recipe
When fermentation is complete and bubbles have slowed or stopped in your airlock, you’re ready to can.
2 – Determine if you’re force carbonating your brew or can conditioning it
If you’re carbonating it during the canning process, simply use a keg and tap to force CO2 into your brew while you transfer it from the keg to the cans. Otherwise, check your recipe and add the recommended amount of priming sugar to each can. Be cautious and test your fill levels and priming sugar amounts on a small batch first if you’re able.
3 – Seal your cans
Once the cans are filled, follow the instructions of your can seamer to cover and seal each can. It may be tricky to find the right rhythm of filling and sealing, especially if you’re working all on your own. Again, starting with a small batch first lets you work some of those kinks out without fear of messing up a larger batch.
4 – Wait for the canned beer to carbonate
Especially after your first few canning experiments, check your cans regularly as they sit. If they start to puff up, distort in shape, or explode, your beer is likely over fermented. Adjust your priming sugar levels and/or fill levels or try again. On the other hand, if your cans remain squishy, your beer is probably underfermented or the can is underfilled. Ideally, you’ll be looking for firm cans in a few weeks.
5 – Enjoy your beer
Here we are, the moment of truth. Ideally, you hear the classic hiss of that “can opening sound” and your beer tastes great and fizzes on your tongue. If your first cold one explodes in your face, or barely makes a sound, don’t worry. Adjust the variables you can and try again next time. You CAN do it!
Cheapest way to get started canning homebrew beer
On a budget? No problem. Here is the most affordable canning equipment money can buy:
- Cannular Tabletop Can Seamer – Though this still comes with a hefty price tag, this is one of the only can sealers on the market you can take home for less than $500. Its manual operation means you’ll need a bit of extra elbow grease, but it can be operated by one person and seal a can in 5 seconds.
- 12oz Cans and Ends from Oktober – $18 for 49 Cans – This is one of the only places amateurs can buy cans in manageable quantities. Oktober offers a variety of sizes and shapes, and lids are included.