By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – When Roger Davidson ordered the new canning machine for Council Rock Brewery, he didn’t know it would be his restaurant’s lifeline.
“We’ve been kicking around the idea of canning our beers for a few years,” he said. “And back in February, we just bit the bullet and bought the machine.”
Dubbing the cans “Crowlers,” Davidson can put any beer the brewery offers – their Goldenrod Ale is the most popular – into a sealed 32 ounce to-go can, perfect for sharing a pint – or enjoying by yourself.
Davidson, who opened the brewery in 2012, has credited the crowlers with helping him stay afloat when COVID shut down restaurants.
“This is a reasonable amount of beer to share,” he said. “Or you can drink a couple of pints while you’re watching a ball game.”
And he’s not the only one. Red Shed Brewery has also turned to canning their beer so that customers don’t have to go thirsty when they pick up their favorite take-out.
“In February, we started planting the seeds of canning,” said Wyatt Crowley, brewmaster, Red Shed Brewery. “We wanted to expand our market to restaurants that don’t have a draft system, but could sell our cans.”
Red Shed opened in 2015, starting first as a Cherry Valley taproom before expanding into a full-scale brewpub on Route 33 in 2018.
With capacity at bars and restaurants locked at 50 percent, Red Shed has seen their sales of kegs decline “drastically.”
“Cans can help buffer that,” he said.
At Council Rock, it paired well with their plans to expand their take-out later this year, a plan that got moved up when COVID shuttered the restaurant.
“We had been planning to expand our take-out business,” said Davidson. “It wasn’t COVID driven, but it was fortunate timing that we had it when we did – because we didn’t have much of a choice!”
Council Rock has always offered growlers – 64 ounce bottles – but Davidson said the crowlers have proved more popular in the last few months.
“When you open a growler, it starts to go flat if you don’t drink it right away,” he said. “But crowlers travel well, you can pick them up when you get take-out and you can recycle them.”
“Growlers are great, but they don’t have a good shelf life,” said Crowley. “You can’t take them on a picnic or to the golf course. They aren’t as versatile as a can.”
Crowley partnered with Butternuts Brewery, canning their popular Otsego Golden Ale and Jessica’s Red Ale in four pack, 16 ounce cans.
“The response has been overwhelmingly good,” he said. “They’ve been flying off the shelves.”
The Blue Mingo Grill, the Lakefront Restaurant and Spurbecks Grocery all carry Red Shed beers.
At Council Rock, the crowlers are filled cold from the tap, then sealed and labeled. “To make it legal, you have to add the date, the style of beer and the alcohol content,” said bartender Kyle Llewellyn.
With their food truck and their outdoor patio, Red Shed has been able to continue serving through the summer, but Crowley is worried about what winter may look like. “Right now restaurants can function outside,” he said. “But in November and December, that isn’t possible. I’m a little nervous.”
But he’s planning to take his cans on the road to reach restaurants in the Capital District. “Sitting down with a representative and cracking a four-pack to sample looks much more professional than opening a growler.”