As businesses navigate the unknowns of coronavirus and Covid-19, breweries across the country are finding ways to stay active. For many small breweries, that means transitioning from taproom sales to curbside pickup and delivery services. Production breweries, meanwhile, are leaning deeper into larger packaging formats and retail partner support.
Along with staying in business, brewers are staying connected to consumers in creative ways, from virtual beer tastings and brewery tours, to social media contests, to beer deliveries by “shark.”
Other breweries, while still struggling, are looking past survival to the post-coronavirus future for the beer business, launching global beer collaborations to benefit hospitality workers, pivoting production to help create hand sanitizers for first responders, and giving away free pizzas to families in need.
From a simple hashtag to a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign like the New Belgium Bar & Restaurant Relief Fund, beer lovers are reminded once again of the camaraderie in the craft beer community. Here’s how 24 brewers are pushing forward during Covid-19.
“We launched All Together, a worldwide collaborative brew with proceeds going to organizations that support hospitality workers, to help unite the brewing community across the globe. The idea for the All Together Beer project is that any brewery around the world can make beer with the assets provided (open source recipe, label and social media graphics) and donate proceeds to their staff, relief funds and/or organizations that are supporting hospitality workers in their community. We hope the All Together Beer project will inspire creativity and help get our hospitality community through this crisis and emerge stronger at the end.” — Sam Richardson, Co-founder, Other Half Brewing, Brooklyn
“With draft business essentially shut down, we’ve shifted gears on the wholesale side to best serve our retail partners by ramping up our packaging. We’ve launched takeout for both food and beer at our Beer Hall with curbside delivery. In addition to a concise list of pizzas and sandwiches, we’ve created a menu of ready-to-bake meals to serve our community of families. … In a situation that poses an existential threat, it is easy to lose yourself in the fight to survive. That being said, this brewery is a part of a community. If we are going down, we will go down while giving away pizzas to hungry families. We’ve partnered with local food pantry, Daniel’s Table, to donate 150 pizzas a week.” — Sam Hendler, Co-owner, Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers and Springdale Beer Co., Framingham, Mass.
“Maxline Brewing is doing its best to retain the majority of its staff, at least to some minimal level. Our beertenders have been cut to one shift each per week, which if nothing else should be a supplement to their unemployment. Our GM is working with the beertenders daily to handle our to-go beer sales in crowlers, which has been our primary source of revenue since this [crisis] started. … Crowler Nation (Oskar Blues) has been overwhelmed with orders from around the country, and they’re working hard to help us all keep things running. So a big shout out to them!” — Kevin Gearhardt, Co-owner, Maxline Brewing, Fort Collins, Colo.
“Part of the difficulty navigating through this pandemic, aside from the obvious and starting with our customers, is that we are dealing with two extremes. On the one hand, our on-premise customers are completely devastated while the off-premise accounts are growing for us. So for our on-premise friends, we’re trying to help as best we can through the #BuyNeighbor program we started aimed at support through gift cards and takeout. For our fans, we’re staying connected through social media. … And for our employees, we’re looking at this as a difficult period but [are] hopeful that we’ll start getting to a new normal by Memorial Day. Unfortunately we haven’t hit the middle of this dark tunnel yet but we’re optimistically looking forward to the other side.” — Mark Hellendrung, CEO, Narragansett Beer, Pawtucket, R.I.
“The New York State Brewers Association came up with a really good idea with virtual happy hours. It’ll give us a chance to showcase things about our brewery that some people may not know. I hope it’ll be both informative and also fun, getting people to forget that they can’t go out and enjoy a beer with a bunch of people. Now they get to enjoy a beer in their living room with us. It makes you think that we could do these virtual happy hours even after we are back to normal.” — Manny Coelho, Brewer, Lithology Brewing Company, Farmingdale, N.Y.
“We are making fast and challenging decisions in order to ensure we land strong on the other side of this crisis. With the closures of our pubs, we’ve focused on moving quickly to ensure our people have immediate access to unemployment benefits, and have committed to extending their medical benefits through the month of April. In brewing operations, we also had to furlough employees, to adapt production with the loss of on-premise business with the closure of restaurants and bars in most of the country. Our main focus has been connecting with our people and keeping them safe through daily communication from our Covid-19 task force, establishing new safety protocols at our brewery, virtual town halls with our senior leadership team, keeping in touch with employees that have been temporarily laid off, and enjoying virtual ‘shifties’ (our term for the shift beers we share after work). Our ultimate goal is to get everyone back to work.” — Veronica Vega, Director of Product of Development, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Ore.
“First, I think it’s important to define what success looks like for us in the current situation — namely, it’s making sure that, despite massive disruptions to our business, we preserve our employees’ pay and healthcare benefits for as long as possible. We’ve undertaken some pretty massive efforts to that end, and have made all the info available to our fellow small businesses (and generally interested parties) via a blog post detailing our approach to this ‘new normal.’ You can check out all the information at moderntimesbeer.com/blog.” — Dan Reed, Communications Metabaron, Modern Times, San Diego
“Like many breweries that were reliant on taproom revenue and keg sales through distributors, we’ve had to be resourceful and pivot. For us that means (socially distanced) packaged beer sales, both curbside and delivery; pop-up retail sales at some of our favorite accounts and partners; and a lot of crowlers! We were also able to lend our empty taproom for a couple of days to a local effort to livestream musicians, themselves now suddenly without livelihoods. We’re thankful that we can at least keep making and selling beer in any capacity, and especially to the NYS Brewers Association who worked so quickly to ensure we and others would be able to operate and keep a few people employed. And of course, we have daily conversations on safety and best practices, which keep evolving.” — Ethan Cox, Co-founder and President, Community Beer Works, Buffalo, N.Y.
“With all of our friends and neighbors staying inside, delivery and social media have seen a huge spike in activity. We repurposed some of our front-of-house staff to make direct deliveries in our borough of NYC (curbside drop-off to keep safe distances), and have spent extra time keeping our followers engaged. Most notably, our #SingleCutDistancing contest is getting a lot of attention by challenging Instagram followers to come up with their best photos of some ice-cold beers and 6 feet of solitude. So far we’ve seen a lot of backyard hikers, rooftop solo salutes, and more than our fair share of doggos and newborns.” — Dan Bronson, GM, SingleCut Beersmiths, Astoria, N.Y.
“We have been focused on helping our staff in every way we can and have been able to retain more than half the staff. Our people are our priority. We have been doing ‘family meal night’ on Thursdays in which Rohrbachs offers a free meal and groceries to staff members who have been temporarily laid off. We are also very excited to be working with our neighbor, Three Heads Brewery, on a collaboration beer. The camaraderie in our industry during this tough time has been incredible.” — Brittany Statt, Marketing Director, Rohrbach Brewing Company, Rochester, N.Y.
“At Anchor we are focused first on employee and customer safety. We temporarily shut down public tours and closed our taprooms prior to the shelter-in-place directive. We are running the brewhouse sporadically to ensure healthy yeast and to keep the beer flowing. We are running minimal packaging shifts of both bottles and cans to meet all orders and are doing everything possible to provide for safe distancing for employees on site and proper hygiene for people and equipment.” — Scott Ungermann, Brewmaster, Anchor Brewing, San Francisco
“Throughout all of this, the health of the community has been our top concern. We are cleaning and sanitizing everything in sight and minding strict rules of social distance to make this a safe experience for everyone involved. Through our online store we’re able to provide the community brewery-fresh 6-packs and cases of your favorite core Three Weavers beers along with 4-packs of limited releases available for both brewery pickup and local next-day delivery.” — Alex Nowell, Brewmaster, Three Weavers Brewing, Los Angeles
“[W]e are currently developing a program to help provide meals to those in the service industry, frontline workers, or frankly anyone who has been affected by recent closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic in NYC in need of a good meal. This initiative will roll out within the next week. Our brewery will remain closed, per Governor Cuomo’s guidelines, through the end of April. Currently, we are not offering beers-to-go, but suggest folks check our website and social channels to stay up to date on any developments. We are truly looking forward to re-opening our doors and enjoying a Mermaid [Pilsner] and some sunshine in our beer garden with our people. Until then, we just hope that everyone stays safe and healthy.” — Jim Betz, Head Brewer, Coney Island Brewery, Brooklyn
“We keep getting asked how we’ll keep up with business and also support our neighbors. The simple answer is: however we can! We’re keeping the stores fully stocked, offering regional delivery for beer and ready to heat, family-style meals and offering pay increases, perks and rewards to brewery-critical folks that can’t work from home. We couldn’t pull this off without them. The hospitality side of things has been most challenging. We didn’t want our rural location to limit us from continuing to serve the local community. Over a third of the population in our home county was food insecure before this all hit, so we’re also launching a pay-it-forward option with delivery, where you can add a boxed meal to your order that will feed a family in need or a front- line worker. Even though we’re over 11 years in the business, it feels a lot like starting the brewery all over again!” — Hayes Humphries, General Manager, Devils Backbone Brewing Co., Roseland, Va.
“These are uncharted times for our industry and our No. 1 priority has been to support our loyal employees and the communities we call home. Once the taproom business was shuttered to allow for social distancing guidelines, we launched a direct-to-consumer beer delivery service in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Our tasting room bartenders and kitchen staff have stepped up in a big way and have put in the hard work to take, process, and deliver beer orders to the doorsteps of local residents. This has also provided a unique opportunity for our staff to maintain reasonable employment when things are so uncertain for so many people.” — Justin Carson, Co-founder and President, Platform Beer Co., Cleveland
“Rogue is forging a path forward by doing what we’ve done since day one, giving back to our community any way that we can. We’re currently making hand sanitizer for first responders at our distillery in Newport and are looking into distilling beer for future batches. We are committed to safely continuing production to ensure our beer and spirits are available across the world while still making time to help those on the front lines fighting this pandemic. The days are long and busy, but we know what’s needed of us right now and are honored to be able to step up and help.” — Dharma Tamm, President, Rogue Spirits & Ales, Newport, Ore.
“[W]hile Ratio has predominantly focused solely on draft accounts, opting not to rush into canning or bottling our beers, during this time when we’re limited to packaged goods, we’ve been lucky to have been helped by our friends at Codi Manufacturing in Golden, Colo., who offered up their mobile canning line so we could package a release of Rooftops Mexican Lager. We’ve also been helped by our friends at New Belgium Brewing, as we were running low on crowler cans. We called up our buddy Andrew Emerton who works for New Belgium and they were willing to sell us half a pallet within the day to help fulfill our needs.” — Tristan Chan, Communications Manager, Ratio Beerworks, Denver
“Colorado, along with the rest of the world, is facing an unprecedented time of uncertainty, and in these tough times, the Breckenridge Brewery team believes that staying united and connected in our community is the best way to stay strong. From supporting our local healthcare heroes or helping those in need through causes like Food Bank of the Rockies, to providing opportunities where people can come together for a moment of joy through virtual dance parties, we are committed to being there for our fellow Coloradans and keep us connected when it’s needed most.” — Todd Usry, President, Breckenridge Brewery, Breckenridge, Colo.
“Sycamore was the first brewery in Charlotte to close to the public, days ahead of any state mandates. Our packaged product, beer, cider, and hard seltzer (BUBS) is available across our four-state distribution network. Our international markets are a different situation, and we have necessarily halted shipments to several European countries. We have not furloughed a single team member and we feel proud of this decision. Sycamore is more than a company, we are a family. While we wait for life to come back to normal, we have launched a fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank: Buy a Sycamore Gift Card from our online store to be used in the taproom, after we reopen; 100 percent up to $30,000 will go to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. — Sarah Brigham, Managing Member, Sycamore Brewing, Charlotte, N.C.
“It’s important to keep spirits up while the world is turning so quickly. We are a two-person team, just the owners, so we did not have to deal with the disappointments of laying off staff. We spent the first week of the Denver restaurant/bar closing trying to quickly shift to to-go sales. We had a great response from our customers and feel really good about that option. The stress of running after the tail of the dragon was hard on us, though, so we chose to take a step back from daily to-go sales, allowing us to focus on packaging a lot more, while also brewing and moving our beers forward. … To stay connected and provide some levity for folks, we use [Facebook Live] on our brewery page to produce ‘Socially Distanced Drinking With Wayne And Laura,’ and spend 15 minutes a day chatting, toasting, being human — looking to bolster spirits and stay in relationship with our friends and fans.” — Laura Worley, Managing Director, Owner, Burns Family Artisan Ales, Denver
“Karl Strauss has weathered some storms in our 31 years. We have quickly pivoted our menu at our brewpubs to allow for Meals At The Ready, which allows for people to get much-needed proteins, side dishes, and platters for their families. From a brewery standpoint we have adjusted brewing to accommodate an increase in package sales. We are still selling draft through our brewpubs and select restaurants that are offering growler and crowlers of beer. Our latest can offering is Red Trolley in cans. What better way to weather a pandemic than with our best-selling beer, now available in a can?! Stay safe and drink well.” — Chad Heath, VP of Sales & Marketing, Karl Strauss Brewing, San Diego
“There are two challenges right now in this Covid-19 crisis: how to take care of your people, and how to keep selling beer. So we’re trying to adapt our sales to this new market by getting as many of our people into different roles as possible: Start employing tasting room staff to handle home deliveries, changing brews last minute to focus on the beers that go to grocery stores, using your people to complete construction work instead of contractors, cut kegs to put that beer into cans (and the required staff to run the line), and still providing insurance and benefits to employees we had to furlough. Plus the other things we’re doing that I can’t remember. Add in the required social distancing and all of sudden no more shift beers to unwind with your coworkers at the end of the day, and it makes taking care of the people that make up the company really hard.” — Jeff Joslin, Director of Brewing Operations, Left Hand Brewing, Longmont, Colo.
“As a company, our first initiative was to ensure that the team was safe. … The team has been great working remotely to ensure our service levels to distributors and retailers have not lowered at all. In the marketplace, we have refocused our entire sales team toward the off-premise to ensure we are supporting our distributors and retailers as effectively as possible in a safe and secure format. For example, we have a major display program with Total Wine and More starting this week, the materials for which are being distributed in a customized fashion directly to TW&M, the distributor, or our team members to ensure 100 percent execution. We see this as a way of not only ensuring support for our TW&M retail partner in the short term, but as a way to reinforce Paulaner USA as a supplier that is easy to do business with.” — Steve Hauser, President and CEO, Paulaner USA
“The reality is, we’re fortunate. As an established brewery with a large percentage of our sales coming from packaged product, we’re not as exposed to the current market conditions that are heavily impacting brewers who have to rely on tap sales. Because of that, we very much feel a responsibility to carry the flag for a bit. First, it’s a priority for us to make sure that we keep our existing staff on payroll. We’re not doing any layoffs or furloughs and we have actually made the decision to hire some staff and just brought on four new sales people and an assistant brewer. Second, we’ve also chosen to not engage in brewery-direct sales or do local delivery. We thought it more important in a time like this to encourage people to support our local businesses and also support the retailers and our distributor partners who are also trying to navigate this crisis and pay their staff as well. Third, we are trying to find creative ways to stay connected, like our weekly remote happy hours, and take advantage of opportunities to take on projects like painting the taproom to make use of our downtime. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are doing everything we can to keep brewing and to keep craft beer on shelves in order to support our local economy with jobs, knowing that we can do it safely and in accordance with all state and federal guidelines.” — Kevin McGee, CEO and President, Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville, Calif.
Published: April 2, 2020