Say hello to D.C.’s first mobile beer canning service

What’s that? It’s D.C. Beer Week and you want the beer news to keep on coming? OK, here goes: Coming in 2014 to a brewery near you is River City Cannery, D.C.’s first mobile canning service.

The business is the brainchild of 30-year-old Matt Sebastionelli, a D.C. firefighter and avid home-brewer who lives in Arlington. Sebastionelli hopes to save local startup breweries from D.C. to New Jersey the cost of buying their own canning equipment, which can cost anywhere between $150,000 and $500,000, he said.

The idea germinated over many months while Sebastionelli was recovering from a serious injury he sustained while on the job with DCFD. His recovery required surgery and a lot of physical therapy, and for awhile, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to get back to work.

“My wife asked me what I would want to do if I couldn’t go back, and I honestly didn’t know,” he said. “I’ve been a fireman since I turned 18. So I started thinking about how I like brewing beer,and she kind of encouraged me to pursue that.”

Sebastionelli and his wife, Ashley, thought about opening a brewery, a brewpub or a brew-on-site business that allows customers to come in and brew their own custom beer.

“But I started realizing that the cost, coupled with not ever being a professional brewer or restaurateur, meant that probably wasn’t going to happen,” Sebastionelli said. In doing his research, he started learning about canning systems and he met Pat Hartman and Ron Popma from Mobile Canning Systems.

Now, the Sebastionellis are investing $200,000 in their new mobile canning business. When it launches in January 2014, River City Cannery will be part of Mobile Canning Systems’ larger affiliate network. River City’s territory will stretch from the District north to Trenton, N.J.

Here’s how it works: The canning equipment is stored on a wheeled chassis shuttled from place to place on a truck, and then wheeled into each customer brewery and hooked directly up to the facility’s finished-beer tank. It can process up to 40 cans per minute.

The mobile canning business is full service: River City will also store all the canning materials, empties, palates and other equipment necessary for canning.

“If someone wants 20 barrels canned, we’ll schedule it, and then we’ll show up with 20 barrels worth of labeled cans. go right into production inside the brewer’s space,” Sebastionelli said. “Then we pack out everything we brought in and leave them with a bunch of stacked, palatted and ready-to-move beer.”

Sebastionelli hopes to eventually move beyond breweries to canning other beverages: Water, soft drinks — even wine. More and more craft brewers are using cans because of their lighter weight and versatility: In D.C., D.C. Brau packages the majority of its beer in cans.

“One of the cool things about cans is you can can take them a lot of places where bottles are not practical or not allowed,” Sebastionelli said, noting that most river sports establishments require that you don’t bring glass on the river.

So is that why he called it River City, even though that’s a nickname for Richmond, Va., which is territory Sebastionelli’s business wouldn’t cover? Not exactly.

“When we started, our ambitions were to service the entire DMV area, including the rest of Virginia, so we chose River City,” Sebastionelli said. When they joined the affiliate network, neighboring Old Dominion Mobile Canning already had all of Virginia covered — but they decided to stick with the name.

“We’re going to be serving Philly, Camden, Baltimore and D.C.,” he said. “They all sit on waterways, so we kind of identify with that.”

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