• Steven Solito

Brewing Community Shows That We Can Stay ‘All Together’ in Time of Separation

Updated: May 5, 2020

We started BeerSighted with the intention of traveling to breweries as often as we could. Not just to visit the ones down the road for a couple drinks, but actually traveling to breweries to see how they operate, enjoy the uniqueness of each one of them, enjoy their brew and bring our findings back to you.

We’re all well aware of the reason why we can’t do that now: COVID-19. I’m not going to belabor that point. The fact we can’t enjoy beers with our buddies at a brewery is not the tragedy in the world right now. But from the perspective of the brewers themselves, everything they’ve worked for is at stake. While we, as supporters of the industry, might be missing out on some good times, owners and employees of these small (in many cases) businesses are fighting for their livelihoods.

And boy are they fighting. As I’m now following the craft beer industry much closer than I ever had previously, I’ve found it to be a wildly inspiring journey throughout these days of quarantine and social distancing. In a world currently full of negatives, the ways in which the craft beer industry has transformed and adapted to the ever-changing times of quarantine has provided us with some positives that I think are worthy of the spotlight.

Adapting is the Key to Survival

The ability for breweries to adapt the way they do business in these strange times has been fascinating. It’s not possible for them to operate as taprooms right now, and relying solely on retail isn’t feasible for most either. Over the course of less than a month, the industry completely transformed.

First taprooms closed, but the doors to the breweries did not. Dropping in for some to-go beers or merchandise was still possible and was the main way breweries were functioning. For roughly a week? Maybe two?

As safety precautions increased, the literal doors into the breweries DID close. Curbside pickup began to ramp up and you could still come away with growlers, crowlers, four packs and so on.

Notch Brewing, Salem, MA Offering Curb-Side Pick-Up

The best way to enable that to happen was opening up online ordering, which is very new to the craft beer world. Suddenly breweries needed to stand up some sort of e-commerce section to their websites so people could select their beers of choice, perhaps some merch, and limit the social interaction when making their curbside transactions. Some may look at this and say, “OK, just add a new page to your website for ordering stuff.” But it’s really not that easy to just build out a legitimate e-commerce section to a website, which is why there are companies dedicated to providing such a service. More on that in a minute.

The next transition to make for those that could handle it was delivery. You no longer had to rely on apps like Drizzly to get a delivery, as breweries started bringing it straight to your door for drop-off themselves. Some breweries such as Trillium out of Canton, Massachusetts, got creative with it by selecting specific towns at a time to which they’d be delivering, rotating towns regularly in order to reach their supporters in a scalable way.

Sanitas Brewing Company out of Boulder, Colorado, found a way to take things one step further: ice cream-truck style! Too far? Not in our minds, but they had some fun at least. Utilizing their own van and cranking out those classic ice cream truck tunes, Sanitas has been making the rounds with their brews and doing so in a social distancing-friendly manner. And just for the record, I would give anything for this method of beer sales to become a thing for the rest of the time. My two cents...

The above progression is that of an entire industry and took place in approximately one month. To me, that’s truly fascinating. But there were a number of things that needed to happen along the way to make any of it possible.

Lending a Helping Hand

To enable such a transformation, breweries first had to be deemed essential. While rules and regulations differ by state, largely breweries have been considered food and beverage manufacturers, giving them the opportunity to remain operational. This was all well and good, but the fact was taprooms absolutely could not remain open, and taprooms account for a hefty portion of craft brew sales. A huge blow to the industry.

CraftRoots Brewing Delivering Amid Pandemic

This obviously didn’t go unnoticed. As alcohol laws vary by state, many states began loosening up their particular restrictions on to-go beer and beer delivery, helping to keep these small businesses afloat.

OK, so now breweries are allowed to do all these cool new things. But how? As I mentioned before, online ordering for curbside pickup became perhaps the most widely adopted method for social distance-compliant selling. For many breweries, web design just isn’t top of mind, and implementing an e-commerce site doesn’t happen with the snap of a finger...which was roughly the amount of time brewers had to get this done.

In stepped 2nd Kitchen, a company that enables establishments without kitchens to still serve food by connecting them with restaurants nearby for help building out a menu. 2nd Kitchen already serviced breweries with their products, but things quickly changed with the pandemic.

2nd Kitchen 2Go is a platform that was quickly made available to breweries FOR FREE! The product is essentially an online branded portal that enables breweries to list and fulfill their beer, food and merch orders as well as donations. It works for both pickup and deliveries depending upon how the brewery is now operating. A final perk to utilizing 2nd Kitchen 2Go is its ability to integrate with Untappd, a social drinking and beer-rating app. Many breweries list their beers in the app, so they could easily be ported over to their new online ordering platform.

While there are undoubtedly other companies that can make this happen, 2nd Kitchen’s ability to quickly make a free product to help breweries react to the rapidly changing red tape has likely been a lifesaver for many breweries. Cheers to you, 2nd Kitchen!

Uncertainty Won’t Stop Positivity

OK, so breweries have been allowed to continue operating through the COVID-19 crisis, they figured out the best and really only ways they can do so, and the industry has transformed in a timely manner. This is great and all, but it has not been easy by any means and there is still constant uncertainty about the future for pretty much every brewery, especially combined with the undetermined length at which these measures must last. A very tough situation.

Well if you know anything about the craft beer industry, you know that it’s an infectiously positive, hardworking and resilient bunch that make these breweries go. It has been fascinating to observe and partake in the fun, creative and positive ways in which breweries have handled this difficult situation.

One of the most unique examples is “All Together,” a beer being brewed worldwide by hundreds of different breweries to raise money for local hospitality professionals. This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The recipe for All Together was created by Other Half Brewing out of Brooklyn, N.Y., and is intended to be a simple recipe that any brewery can recreate and produce themselves. All breweries can get their hands on this recipe and can add their own twists to the brew if they’d like, sell it, and give some portion of the proceeds to hospitality workers in their communities.

This project puts everything in place for breweries to be able to partake in this program too. I mentioned the recipe being provided by Other Half Brewing, but there were some other key industry partners involved in helping get this up and running.

One additional request of participating breweries is to use the same label artwork. Design templates are available on the website and were created by Stout Collective. Printing of those labels can be done by Blue Label Packaging Co. at cost, and the All Together website itself was created and is maintained by Craftpeak. This project is a collaboration in every sense of the word.

This is hardly the only inspiring tale to come out of the craft beer industry as a result of the pandemic. The examples are endless, but here are a few additional things we’ve seen breweries doing to lend a hand and show appreciation to those that need it:

  • Brewery owners cutting their own salaries for employee redistribution to avoid layoffs

  • Millions of dollars raised for the food and beverage industry through donations and foundations

  • Virtual events to keep beer drinkers together, such as the #NationWideCheers

  • Promotions for first responders and medical workers

  • Production and distribution of hand sanitizer (yes, breweries can help do this!)

  • Free toilet paper with beer purchases

Based on these examples and many, many more, there are a lot of breweries worthy of a good shoutout. So we at BeerSighted are going to take the time to recognize as many as we can with a social media campaign we’re calling the #BeerSightedSalute! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to join in.

The bottom line is that this industry is doing everything it can to not just stay afloat, but remain the fun-loving and passionate brewers they have always been. Nothing about this is easy, but as you can see there are lots of powerful, fun and inspiring tales to be told regarding the industry’s response to COVID-19.

We at BeerSighted wish every single brewery all the best in these challenging times and absolutely cannot wait for the next time we can be “all together” in a taproom again. We like to say #BeerSeekersUnite. Beer seekers and brewers are uniting like never before. Cheers to craft beer!

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