Craft Brewers Turn to Online Ordering, Delivery Programs and More as On-Premise Consumption Ceases

With mandated shutdowns of bars, restaurants and taprooms in more than 20 states and voluntary closures in many others, the novel coronavirus has forced craft brewers to get creative in getting their beer to consumers.

Brewers Association (BA) chief economist Bart Watson estimated that 40% of craft breweries’ volume flows through the on-premise channel and that roughly one out of every three beers sold on-premise is a craft offering. Complicating matters is the “own-premise” brewery taproom model that thousands of craft brewers have adopted over the past several years. Watson estimated that craft brewers sold 3.6 million barrels in their own establishments in 2019.

The governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have loosened restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages to go from on-premise accounts, which allows craft breweries in those state to offer delivery.

“We’re extremely excited about this change and excited to embrace it,” said Chelsey Ziolkowski, co-owner of Bradley Brew Project in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. “Deliveries will be set to a 10 mile radius from the brewery with no fee and a two 4-pack/crowler minimum.”

Bradley Brew Project began canning its offerings in December, which Ziolkowski said led to 75 cases per month sold at the brewery and 40 to 50 cases per month sold through distribution. A few of the brewery’s on-premise accounts expressed interest in switching their Bradley Brew Project offerings from draft to package to sell with their state-mandated takeout or delivery orders.

“Setting up the infrastructure (production, mobile canner, distribution) a few months ago substantially helped us to pivot during this time of need where bars will not order kegs as they’re closed,” she said.

Although breweries are permitted to offer delivery, all deliveries must be completed by the license holder, so Bradley Brew Project and other breweries cannot use third-party services such as DoorDash or UberEats. The brewery has added an ordering portal to its website, so consumers can purchase cans, merchandise and gift cards.

“We’re proud to be a flexible business,” Ziolkowski said.

In Maine, Bissell Brothers offered similar delivery service from its Portland taproom, with co-founder Peter Bissell making Monday’s deliveries and tweeting about the experience.

“This is a great contactless way to get your beer if you are practicing self-quarantine and we’re having a blast!” the company tweeted.

In Boston, Mass. Bay Brewing Company began offering to-go sales of its brands (Harpoon, UFO, Clown Shoes, City Roots Hard Cider and Arctic Summer Hard Seltzer) through a new online portal for pickup at Harpoon Brewery. Harpoon is also offering complimentary pretzels for consumers who pick up their orders. Anyone who shows a receipt from a take-out order from a local restaurant will receive an extra gift.

“We wanted to do something to support the community because we know that bars and restaurants are just being devastated by the ban that’s in place,” Mass. Bay president Charlie Storey said, adding that the company was happy to do “anything we can do to support them and encourage customers to utilize bars and restaurants as a source for takeout that helps keep those businesses alive, helps keep jobs going.”

Storey said it was “premature” to comment on how the company was handling wages for hourly and tipped employees.

“What we are doing is looking at ways where we can realign work for people so they can stay active,” he said.

In nearby Belmont, Massachusetts, retailer Craft Beer Cellar’s Belmont location announced Saturday that it would deliver its own products, as well as orders placed at neighboring Belmont Books.

Charlton, Massachusetts-based Tree House Brewing Company announced it would close until further notice, days after implementing strict social-distancing protocol that spaced consumers waiting in its normally long line 10 feet from each other and built a temporary windowed wall to separate retail staff from consumers at the point of purchase. Tree House does not distribute and relies on on-site retail sales.

Tree House co-founder Nathan Lanier wrote that most of the retail staff has been asked to stay home and will continue to receive pay, while production staff would work on a reduced basis. Staff members not working would still receive standar pay for the foreseeable future, but the company’s leadership would forgo salary “for the duration of the crisis.”

“As we do not currently have a great understanding of the length of time we can sustain our staff, their benefits, and the burden of lost product and remain solvent with no income, we will need to reassess this on an ongoing basis, but it is our belief and deepest hope it will not come to this,” Lanier wrote.

Worcester, Massachusetts-based Greater Good Imperial Brew Company founder Paul Wengender announced that he won’t take a salary in an effort to avoid cutting staff pay.

Though Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has not issued an on-premise business shutdown, Austin Mayor Steve Adler today ordered that all bars and restaurants in his city cease dine-in service for six weeks.

Texas brewers gained the ability to sell beer to go in September — the last state in the nation to do so. Austin Beerworks owner Adam DeBower expressed his gratitude for the additional revenue stream on Twitter.

Hops and Grain Brewing announced that it ceased on-premise sales in its taproom and would offer packaged beer to go.

“Taking care of our community has always been top of mind for us at Hops & Grain Brewing,” owner Josh Hare tweeted. “We take pride in being a good neighbor and we do not take lightly the huge responsibility that we have to our staff and customers.”

Austin-based Circle Brewing Company announced it has set up a drive-through service so consumers won’t have to leave their cars.

In Jersey City, New Jersey, Departed Soles Brewing Company founder Brian Kulbacki is offering contract brewing services at his brewery to support fellow brewers whose supply chains may be disrupted.

“It dawned on me that those on my end could be affected by transit of their goods from out-of-state contract breweries, or getting their beer here to our state to their distributors. I hope I am wrong, but that could play a huge part in the future viability of my sisters and brothers in the brewing community,” he said. “We are fortunate enough to have our own canning line, so as long as they have cans and kegs, there’s no reason, as we dial back our kegged beer production, we can’t help them out, and it at least provides me with a little bit of income to keep my team employed.”

Kulbacki also added an online store to Departed Soles’ website to sell merchandise and gift cards, and opened up the portal to fellow Jersey City businesses.

“I will give you 100% of the money, I’ll eat all the processing fees, and handle getting the gift cards from you and shipping them out,” Kulbacki wrote on Instagram. “We’re all in this together.”

In California, San Francisco-based Seven Stills Brewery and Distillery used its distilling equipment to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer to donate to local nonprofits, nursing homes and homeless shelters, according to an email the company sent Saturday.

However, the multi-county shelter-in-place order issued Monday in the Bay Area forced Seven Stills to stop operating until further notice.

“During this mandatory shutdown our entire staff has been forced to go on temporary unemployment benefits or paid family leave,” Seven Stills wrote in an email Monday with a link to a GoFundMe set up for employees. “Not only will this provide less than minimum wage, but all of our service staff will not be receiving the gratuity that they rely on to pay their bills, make rent, and feed themselves and their families.”

Another Bay Area brewery, Cleophus Quealy Beer Company, said the shutdown is too much to endure and the company will have to close.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce Cleophus Quealy Beer Company will be permanently shutting down after April,” a post on Cleophus Quealy’s website said. “We have temporarily closed our tasting room in response to orders from the State Of California and Alameda County, and do not expect to reopen.”

While closed for the remainder of March and into April, Cleophus Quealy said it will use “all remaining resources to pay our employees for the next two months, in order to help support them through this extremely difficult time.”

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