Michigan natives create canned beer machine for microbreweries

Justine McGuire, Muskegon Chronicle

Ever been to a brewery, and wished your favorite seasonal or specialty beer was available as a canned beer?

Two West Michigan natives invented the solution.  They call it the Mk16 Can Seamer.

The canned beer machine makes it possible for breweries to put anything on tap into a 16-ounce can (or smaller) from behind the taproom bar in less than a minute.

It was engineered in Grand Haven, and is produced in Muskegon.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports that more than 80 Mk16 Can Seamers have been sold since September 2016.

It’s mostly been purchased by microbreweries, but also by coffee shops, home brewers, soda syrup companies, cider makers and others.

Dennis Grumm, of Grand Haven, and Joshua van den Heuvel, of Rotterdam, Netherlands, founded Oktober LLC together after inventing the canned beer machine.

Van den Heuvel graduated from Montague High School in 1999 — he flies to West Michigan from the Netherlands every other month. Grumm graduated from Shelby High School in 2000.

The idea for the product was typed into Grumm’s phone a couple years ago when a relative who homebrews complained about the labors of bottling.

It took Grumm a couple weeks to design the Mk16, and it took a couple hours to put the first one together, he said.

“It actually just worked,” Grumm said of the first prototype. “We were astonished. We didn’t really know. It’s not like we come from the industry. We had no idea how this stuff works. When were first had the idea … it took me half a day to figure out what the machine was called so I could even search for it.”

The first prototype was built during December 2015.

Grand Armory Brewing, 17 Second St. in Grand Haven, tested the first finished canned beer machine in its taproom starting June 2016.

“Our machine really is a solid business plan,” Grumm said. “If you sell a guy two beers behind the bar, and you sell him one more to go, you made 30 percent more revenue on one customer.”

Grumm and van den Heuvel were surprised when they watched one customer purchase a six-pack of cans, a growler and Mk16 cans from Grand Armory.

In the first week, Grand Armory sold 300 cans at $4 to $6 each — the same price as in a glass.

At $1,500, most breweries can make back their money from the Mk16 in a matter of weeks, Grumm said.

Grand Armory was aware of the Mk16 during development, and was excited about it from the beginning, said Ben Tabor, co-owner.

“We knew very early on when we were first creating the brewery that this was a product we wanted to have,” he said. “When we got it, it was just as popular as we hoped.”

Grand Armory now cans some of its mainstay brews in 12 ouncers using a different machine, but continues to offer 16-ounce cans from the Mk16.

The 42-pound seamer takes up less than one square foot of counter space.

The Mk16 is capable of seaming a variety of can sizes, but comes with attachments for 16- and 12-ounce cans.

The machine was Grand Armory’s jumping off point for canning, and it’s still popular even with a fridge full of six packs.

“It allows all 20 of our beers to be available … you can take one of or specialty releases — that might never be brewed again and you’re probably never going to see it on the shelf at Orchard Market _ out the door that day,” he said.

One or two Mk16s are sold daily, despite a lack of marketing, Grumm said.

As of 2015, there were more than 4,200 breweries in the United States, which is more than double that of 2011, according to the Brewers Association. The majority of the growth was in microbreweries.

Michigan Brewers Guild lists 220 microbreweries and brewpubs.

Mk16s were expected to sell to Michigan breweries first, but so far only 11 are operating in the state. Others have gone to California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states, along with the United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, Argentina and Norway.

“It went everywhere else,” van den Heuvel said.

Still, they’re calling it a success so far.

Grumm and van den Heuvel quit their day jobs to run Oktober full-time, and recently moved operations to My Office Space and Storage, 1657 S. Getty St. in Muskegon.

“We’re picking up the pace a little bit,” Grumm said.

Each Mk16 is hand built by Grumm or van den Heuvel, going from pieces to a completed machine in a box ready for shipping in about two hours.

The third co-founder of Oktober is Clint LeaTrea who mostly handles purchasing and continues to work as an engineer at another company.

Grumm, LeaTrea and van den Heuvel attended Michigan Technological University together, and each earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Grumm worked in aerospace research and development for 10 years. Van den Heuvel worked in automotive safety testing for 11 years.

An AP Member Exchange story shared by Muskegon Chronicle.