The Case of the Leaky Seams

Our mom always told us, don’t cry over spilled beer. Or dried beer. Or flat beer. Do something about it. We’re pretty sure that was the message.

As you might guess, a brewery that produces roughly 25,000 barrels of beer annually is going to receive a fair amount of (e)mail – mostly positive, which is always encouraging, but occasionally the feedback is negative.  And you know what? We love that. Not that we are gluttons for punishment and verbal backlash (that’s what Reddit is for), but without tangible, real-world feedback how can we possibly improve, get our fans what they are asking for, and more importantly determine if our customers are having unhappy experiences with our products and to what extent? That’s what this post is about.

So, let’s just dive right in.

In mid-February, we noticed we were receiving a few more 12 oz can complaints than usual. Some of our fans started reaching out with email subject lines like “I’m not an angry customer but…” and “I’m not an angry customer, just mildly annoyed enough to give an FYI”. What we learned through those emails was that some of you were finding dried beer along the seam of your Irish Death can, meaning it wasn’t sealed properly. 

AAACK as Cathy might say.  Leaking beer, sticky cans, empty cans!  This is horrible. 

There is a statistic out there, by Lee Resources International, that says for every consumer complaint there are 26 who stay silent. As of this writing, we have had about 55 customers let us know about this issue. (we started investigating at complaint 1, and prioritized as each new inquiry came in. But if we do the quick math on this, that is potentially 1430 issues of bad seams). We would say “not good” here, but that would be a gross understatement. 

At about complaint 15, we escalated our efforts to better understand what the EFF was going on.  

Here’s what our quality control humans learned:

“According to Cask there was a number of things that each one on their own would not have caused a problem. Cam followers-upside down, overgreased seamers, incorrect tooling designation in seamscan, intermittent air pressure issues. We have designated a number of action items like adding pin height gauges, change designations, air leak inspections and new standard work for cams and bearing grease.”

AND

“We also learned of a table issue that we have since figured out. When the lift table portion lifted the can up to seam, it had an issue where it lifted it too high, causing a little ripple in the can (which weakens the structural integrity), which quickly turned into a whole hourglass when the pallet was getting stacked. That effect also then made the body hook (part of the seam) wobble, again making it undetectable in the seam scan but then crept up and caused a nightmare for us and a very lame experience for our customers.”

Here’s what we’ve done to correct these issues:

We had a technician from the manufacturer of our canner come down and help our packaging and quality team to assess the issues that we were having. What we discovered was a litany of small issues that added together causing said leaky cans. We had some parameters that were not right as well as some physical parts not located in the right spot. With the help of the technician, we were able to diagnose those issues and standardize those problems to not have them arise again. 

Why not just recall all of the affected product?  

We asked ourselves the same question.  Here’s what we concluded: The beer is still delicious, there is no risk of danger – just massive disappointment of leaky seams or an empty can – and despite a potential of, let’s say 2000 bad seams out there, this issue represents less than 1% of the affected 6 packs.   While less than 1% is a number we are not comfortable with, we felt the best course of action was to deal with potential additional issues in the following ways to avoid the considerable cost to the brewery as well as the considerable cost to the environment by having a lot of beer get shipped back to the brewery to just go down the drain despite not being bad.  Our 2-part plan is: 1) write this post and 2) see below

Have you been affected by the leaky seam bandit?  Did you buy one of our 6-packs and this issue happened to you?  If so, please do the following:

  1. If the carton is beer soaked and you haven’t opened it yet, take it back to the store where you purchased it; that will be your fastest course of action to get your refund and replacement 6 pack.
  2. Email ilove@ironhorsebrewery.com (we’re projecting feelings for you) that you took this action (so we can document the issue and make things right with you on our side)

      Or

  1. If you have already opened the carton/cans, please do the following:
  2. Photograph the affected carton and the can, with the date stamp (usually found on the side of the box).
  3. Email ilove@ironhorsebrewery.com the photograph along with the date and location of purchase.
  4. We pinky swear to make things right.

We are doubtful that a perfect process exists, which is why we have rapid evolution in our mission statement, but we do have a high degree of confidence in correcting this particular issue going forward.  

Thank you for your continued support.

Team Iron Horse Brewery

Contributors to this post were:
Tyson Read, Greg Parker, Rikki Welz, Morgan Moran, Jared Vallejo and Nicole Klauss


2 comments on “The Case of the Leaky SeamsAdd Your Comment

  1. Dan on

    Thanks for being open about the leaking can issue, I ran into maybe 6 cans out of 48 that had a leaking/empty problem.

    These cans were noticeably more flexible (unopened) than they have been in the past. Did you change to a thinner aluminum gauge ?

    Reply
    • ironhorsebrewery on

      Hi Dan. We have not changed our aluminum gauge, however it may have gone through extreme temperature changes, causing the CO2 in the can to leave the liquid to expand the can, then contract when cooled down. When/where did you purchase the most recent six-pack from? Do you still have the box and is there a date stamp on it?

      Reply

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