Florida Wholesalers, Brewers Picking up the Pieces after Hurricane Irma

Florida beer wholesalers and brewers are attempting to return to work in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which wreaked havoc on the state and has left millions of residents without power.

One of the hardest hit distributors could be J.J. Taylor Companies, whose Fort Myers warehouse suffered severe damage when the hurricane ripped a recently added solar array off the roof, sending panels slicing through the building, according to chief operating officer Jay Martin.

In an interview with Brewbound, Martin said the company’s facilities in Tampa, Sebring, Fort Pierce and Jupiter were spared.

“For the strength of the storm and what Irma brought, we’re in pretty good shape,” Martin said.

But the company’s Fort Myers facility, which was recently expanded to 225,000 sq. ft., experienced “death by 1,000 cuts,” Martin said. Approximately 90 percent of the solar panel array came unattached, he added, noting that some areas of the building now have foot-wide gouges.

Flooding throughout the facility also destroyed office space and ruined a majority of the inventory, Martin said. He estimated that the building likely won’t be operational for four-to-six months. During that time, J.J. Taylor plans to house beer inventory in its Tampa facility and route operations through that location even as it returns to a normal delivery schedule next week.

J.J. Taylor CFO Hank DesPlaines told Brewbound that the company’s 800 statewide employees are safe, although some won’t have power restored to their homes for at least another 10 days. Despite those issues, about 99 percent of the company’s employees have returned to work.

Martin said deliveries to Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach have yet to resume, although the company is delivering to other territories.

“If an account has power, and they’re open and willing to take delivery, we’re going to get beer to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brown Distributing, whose portfolio includes Wynwood, Funky Buddha, and Cigar City, among other craft brands, is operating at about 95 percent capacity, according to senior marketing manager Thomas Kulig. The wholesaler, which delivers beer south of Orlando, had been without power at its West Palm warehouse until Wednesday.

“We’ve been juggling a lot of pieces,” he said. “But we were able to maintain and keep everything cold with our generator, so we didn’t lose any product.”

Brown’s sales team has since resumed reaching out to larger customers and grocery stores and taking orders, Kulig said. But flooding in Miami and Tampa, as well as the destruction in the Florida Keys, has prevented Brown from making deliveries to many retailers. The first priority, Kulig said, would be delivering product to the Tampa area. Service to Miami will resume on Friday, he added.

Another craft-minded beer wholesaler, Cavalier Distributing, which operates warehouses in Lakeland and Miramar, is delivering to a little more than 50 percent of its customers this week, according to Florida state sales manager Ben Eberly.

Power was restored at Cavalier’s Lakeland warehouse on Monday afternoon and the Miramar facility only briefly lost power, according to spokeswoman Amy Browns Taylor. However, about two-thirds of the company’s employees are still without power at their homes, she said.

Cavalier, which also has outfits in Ohio and Indiana, sent reinforcements from those states to help with beer deliveries and warehouse work. Those employees are also helping Florida workers with deliveries of food, toiletries, water, chainsaws, generators and cleaning supplies, Browns Taylor said.

Cavalier, which delivers beer Tuesday through Friday, is now “up and running 100 percent” as of Wednesday, Browns Taylor said. Saturday deliveries are also planned in the interim. However, the company has not been able to resume deliveries to the Keys, which were hit hard by Irma.

“We want to get to the Keys as quickly as we possibly can,” Browns Taylor said.

Brewers Minimally Impacted by Storm

Islamorada Beer Company co-founder Jose Herrera told Brewbound that his company’s tasting room in the Florida Keys survived the storm despite downed trees near the building. However, the tasting room will be shuttered for at least “a couple of weeks,” and it’s unclear when tourists will return.

“It’s pretty hard when the majority of your sales are in the Florida Keys, and a lot of the major restaurants are destroyed,” he said. “It’s catastrophic. It’s going to take a while to rebuild.”

In the meantime, Islamorada Beer’s five owners have turned their focus to recovery efforts, helping to clear debris and deliver supplies throughout the Keys.

“We are all hustling,” Herrera said.

Part of that hustle includes bottling water at the brewery’s 30-barrel production facility in Fort Pierce, which sustained no damage. Herrera told Brewbound that Islamorada is also looking for a manufacturer to donate blank cans to fill with water due to the overwhelming need in the Keys.

“It’s hot,” he said. “So people are consuming a lot of water.”

On Friday, Islamorada will host a party at its Fort Pierce brewery with proceeds from beer sales going to hurricane relief efforts.

Florida Brewers Guild executive director Sean Nordquist told Brewbound that he’s only heard reports of minor damage and no significant flooding at member breweries.

“Almost everybody lost power, at one point or another,” he said. “There has been some loss of product or materials because they couldn’t keep their refrigeration or glycol going, whatever the case might be.”

Meanwhile, production has yet to resume at MIA Beer Co. Founder Eddie Leon told Brewbound that his brewery didn’t suffer any physical damage, but it has been without power since the storm passed through over the weekend. Nevertheless, Leon has reopened his taproom and beer garden using a couple of small generators to keep the lights on and jockey boxes to serve cold beer.

Florida Power & Light has informed Leon that electricity could be restored this weekend.

“It’ll slow down our supply,” he said of the halt in production. “On the other hand, I would imagine demand is slowing down because there are a lot of restaurants and bars that are not open yet. I think there’s not much demand for beer right now since so many places are closed.”

Wynwood Brewing Co. vice president of marketing and sales Ian Salzberg told Brewbound that the Miami-based brewery never lost power. However, a few of Wynwood’s employees are still without power at their homes, but the damage has been minor.

“We were extremely lucky,” he said.

Wynwood, which ceased production late last week, resumed brewing operations on Tuesday, Salzberg said. He said he expects operations to return to normal next week.

Wynwood’s taproom opened a couple of days ago and has served as a hub for customers in search of air conditioning and “a sense of normalcy,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Salzberg said of the aftermath. “When we look at what’s going on in U.S. Virgin Islands and Barbuda and all of these other places, it really goes to show you how lucky we were in South Florida. The Keys got hit very hard as well, so there’s a long way to go for those folks, and if there’s an opportunity to help those folks, we’re there.”

One way Wynwood is helping is by buying a pint for each first responder and Florida P&L worker who plan to visit the tasting room over the weekend.

Farther north, near Fort Lauderdale, Funky Buddha Brewery “made it through unscathed,” brand manager John Linn wrote to Brewbound in an email.

And Anheuser-Busch InBev spokeswoman Gemma Hart told Brewbound earlier this week that the company’s “preparation plans have worked out and the brewery [in Jacksonville] is holding up well.”

Also helping with the relief efforts, Oskar Blues’ CAN’d Air Foundation has sent 163,200 cans of water to its sister brewery, Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, for distribution to residents of several Florida counties in need of clean drinking water. Those cans arrived in Tampa and Naples today.

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