Thanks to the 24-ounce beer can, business is growing again at the Anheuser-Busch InBev brewery in central New York.
After several years of eroding production and employment — a decline that began in the 1990s — the brewery in the Syracuse suburb of Lysander is poised to make more beer in 2013 than it did in 2012, and add some workers at the same time.
“Last year, we added a can 24-ounce, highly efficient canning line that has enabled us to produce more beer out of this brewery,” said Nick Mills, who took over as general manager at Lysander on Jan. 1 after serving several years as its brewmaster.
That, plus a surge in new products like the flavored alcohol beverage Lime-A-Rita, will boost the brewery’s output to near 6 million barrels this year, a mark it hasn’t hit in a while, Mills said. A barrel is 31 gallons, or the equivalent of two full-sized kegs.
The Lysander plant, just outside of Baldwinsville, is now advertising to fill about 25 jobs for electrical instrumentation and mechanical technicians, Mills said. Most will work on the 24-ounce canning line that started production in the spring of 2012.
Current employment at the plant stands at about 400. It had been more than 800 in the 1990s.
“This is the first significant bump (in employment) we’ve seen in five years,” said Steve Richmond, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 1149, which represents about 90 percent of the brewery’s work force. “It’s been dropping a little each year for the past five years.”
The new technicians, who will be represented by the union, will make about $30 per hour, Richmond said. They must demonstrate technical skills and pass a test, Mills said.
The decline in production at the local plant has mirrored the decline in overall beer sales nationwide — down more than 1 percent in each of the last few years, according the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade group. Craft beer, typically made in smaller batches by smaller brewers, has bucked that trend, growing by more than 10 percent in each of the past two years, the association reports.
Installing a canning line for 24-ounce products was a goal for the local A-B InBev plant in 2011, when the brewery reached a deal with Onondaga County and the town of Lysander that saved the company $6 million property taxes for 15 years.
The brewery installed the line last spring, and it now fills and packages the 24-ounce cans for dozens of the brewery’s products — from Budweiser and Bud Light to the Lime-A-Rita and the Margaritaville “5 O’Clock Cocktails” beverages.
The Anheuser-Busch plant in Lysander dates to 1976, when it started as a Schlitz plant. Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, took over in 1979, making it one of 12 U.S. breweries the company operates.
In 2008, Anheuser-Busch was taken over by InBev, a Belgium-based beer conglomerate.
The new company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, announced it would not close any of U.S. plants during the life of its current national union contract, which expires in February 2014.
Officials at the Lysander plant have often touted its flexibility within the A-B InBev system, with a design that allows it to produce beer in many diverse packages, such as ultra slim cans, aluminum bottles and even beer balls.
Richmond, the Teamsters officer, believes the plant is still in a good position within the company.
“Baldwinsville has always been identified as the location where they roll out new products,” Richmond said. “So that’s to our benefit.”
What do you call it?
A standard-sized beer can is 12 ounces, and generations of beer drinkers have called 16-ounce cans “tall boys.” So what do you call a 24-ounce can?
According to one definition at urbandictionary.com, a 24-ouncer is a “tough guy.” The site’s how-to-use-it-in a-sentence example: “Tall boys? That’s child’s play. Pick me up a few tough guys.”
Nick Mills, general manager of the Anheuser-Busch InBev plant in Lysander, has heard a different name — two-four. As in, “Let’s go get a two-four.”