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Tuesday, October 9th 2012

Introducing Ska Fabricating
Q & A with Matt Vincent

If you're fan of craft beer, you're likely familiar with Ska Brewing Company. The Durango, Colorado based brewery has been producing great beers since 1995. In 2002, the brewery took a leap of faith and began canning. Becoming one of the earliest believers in the benefits of cans. Since then they've released six different beers in cans including their extremely popular Modus Hoperandi and their newest addition, a stout brewed with three different chile peppers called Molé Autumnal Stout. For over a decade now they've been working with cans and in that time Matt Vincent, one of Ska's co-owners, has learned a lot. Over the year's his ingenuity and creativity have not only resolved problems in the brewhouse but inspired time and labor saving equipment.

This year Matt took all that experience and launched Ska Fabricating, a new business that will focus on machinery made specifically for brewers that can their beer. Before Matt took off for Sweden to represent Ska at the annual Stockhom Whisky and Beer Festival, we threw a bunch of questions at him about his new endeavor. Cheer Matt and best of luck!

(CC) Tell us a little bit about yourself...

(MV) I moved to Durango, CO from Tulsa, OK in 1991 to attend Fort Lewis college. I then proceeded to do exactly what my friends and family said I would do: Dropped out of college and became a ski bum. I worked at Purgatory as a lift operator for a couple of seasons and then I discovered good beer and how to make it. Myself and three other buddies decided to go in on a homebrew kit and it took off from there. Of the four of us, I was completely enamored with it. I was only 19 at the time, so creating something from scratch that "the man" wouldn't let me buy was pretty darn cool at that age. I kept on brewing as the other guys interest waned, because it was more work than they were willing to do. Durango Brewing Co. was conveniently right down the street from our house, so I would go down there and purchase grain and hops from them, at the same time telling the owner that I WILL be getting a job there soon. I started washing kegs and doing deliveries there a couple of weeks after my 21st birthday. Within the year, I quickly moved up the ladder, becoming the head brewer. About a year into that position, I was having a homebrew party at my house and these two characters showed up at the party with a keg of their own homebrew. That is how I met my partners at Ska, Dave Thibodeau and Bill Graham. Bill and Dave opened Ska up in 1995 and I quit Durango Brewing Co. to join them in 1996.

(CC) Where did the idea for Ska Fabricating come from?

Over the years, we have had to grow our business significantly to handle the growth we were experiencing. We kept running into problems along the way and the need to operate more efficiently. So, I would build some contraption or figure out a way to make the job easier. I've had a lot of help along the way. We have a machinist, Ron Andrews, that works out of his garage making titanium water bottle cages and can "Rube Goldberg" just about anything around. My partner in Ska Fabricating, Jim Krall is a very accomplished sanitary welder and mechanic. If there is a problem around the brewery, between the three of us, we can generally solve it. A lot of people kept telling me that I should sell that idea/machine. I finally decided to do it and start Ska Fabricating.

The main reason that I started Ska Fabricating is that I have a strong desire to help other breweries out with their problems. This is one of the few industries around in which competing companies still get along so well, sharing business ideas, recipes and collaborating on brews. Other industries don't get it and can't understand why we would even be talking to the competition. I tell them, "Well, I like their beer, that's why...". I want to continue to practice this business model by proving that cooperation, not competition, will make us all grow. f the world did business like the craft brewing industry does business, it would be a better place.

(CC) What is the relationship you have with Ska Brewing?

(MV) I am co-owner and Plant Manager. I have to give a lot of credit to my partners and managers, as they are all doing an excellent job and that is allowing me to devote time to this business. We are still growing like crazy at Ska, but our current goal is to settle down a little bit and watch the industry for the next couple of years to see where it is going with all the new breweries opening up. Over the past 5 years my main job at Ska has been Project Development. I have had a heavy hand in designing and building a beautiful new facility, installing tank farms, designing glycol systems, installing a centrifuge and building equipment to make employees happier and work more efficiently. I am still there on a daily basis solving any problems that arise and using our facility as a testing ground for new products for Ska Fabricating.


Ska Fabricating's "Can-i-Bus Can Depalletizer" in action

(CC) What sorts of products are you making?

(MV) Anything that helps. Our main product currently is the Can-i-Bus Can depalletizer. It seems to be a hot item that a lot of breweries need. Getting the cans to the filling line is often times overlooked and brewers think "Aw, we'll just figure it out..." A couple of pallets later, they are thinking "Crap, we should have done something about this." I also have a six packer out there that uses traditional six pack rings along with a can alignment feature to face your cans on the shelf. I am working on a very simple rinse cage and an inline can scale for knocking lowfills off the line.

(CC) What makes Ska Fabricating unique?

(MV) I think what makes us unique is that we are a brewery that makes equipment that brewers need. I have been working in the industry for almost 19 years now and I have done things wrong many times and I have seen things done wrong many times. I am amazed when I talk to machinery companies about something I need and they start rattling off high dollar ideas and super expensive solutions to seemingly simple problems. It almost becomes a challenge at that point. In a lot of situations, I feel that there is an easier or less expensive way to do it. I am also a firm believer in that I don't want to put a product out there that hasn't been proven. I want to run it onsite at our facility and know that it works before I can put our name on it. I feel there a lot of companies out there making machinery on paper with too many people looking at it which adds up quickly. They aren't in a situation where they can be there on a daily basis to see it run and work the kinks out.


Ska Fabricating's MVP-2000 - an automatic can facer

(CC) It sounds like you're directly involved with everything including the actual fabrication. This is pretty hands on affair for you, right?

(MV) Absolutely. My partner in the business, Jim Krall, has years of welding and fabrication experience and we just hired two other guys to help with fabrication, installation and sales. Most of the concepts are mine, and I help with the construction and engineering, but he really knows how to make it come together at his shop. I also have the electronics experience and currently do all the wiring and programming myself.

(CC) Looking at the website I couldn't help but notice that your son, who is only 6, is also quite the innovator. Think he'll follow in your footsteps?

(MV) I would like to think so! He is fascinated with this stuff and is always asking me if we can build something on the weekends. He is learning how to weld and I got him some cool electronics kits he likes playing with.


(CC) Back in 2002, when Ska began canning their beer, it was a pretty stark landscape when it comes to craft beer in cans. How do you explain the recent explosion in the number of breweries choosing to go with cans?

(MV) Thanks to companies like Cask, Wild Goose, Ball, Rexam, and Crown, breweries can afford to get into canning. Before Cask made the deal with Ball, I think everyone scoffed at the idea of small scale canning. I think people are finally getting away from the stigma that bad beer comes in cans. It took a couple of us to prove that to people and now there are other people following suit. Cans are better suited to outdoor activities. They protect the beer well, they are lightweight and easily recyclable. It seems that the craft beer connoisseur tends to take a liking to do things outside and cans fit that bill very well.


Ska Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado

(CC) If a person visits Durango for a long weekend what are some of the things that they shouldn't miss doing, seeing, eating and of course drinking?

(MV) First and foremost, Ska Brewing Co. should always be the first stop! We always have something entertaining going on in our tasting room and seasonally we offer delicious cuisine and live music. In the summer, Mesa Verde, the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge train, mountain biking, rafting, camping and brewery tastings are a fun way to see our area. In the winter, skiing at Durango Mountain resort, snow-kiting, and of course visiting local breweries. For food, I recommend breakfast at Carvers Brewing, lunch at Steamworks Brewing, dinner at Seasons and beers (possibly a shot or two) at the El Rancho...

(CC) Finally, how can folks learn more about Ska Fabricating?

(MV) Go to the website www.skafabricating.com or contact me directly at matt@skafabricating.com and when in doubt, come for a visit!


Posted by Russ