Dave Hoops column: How breweries got through pandemic, and looking forward
Many of us in the brewing industry are so grateful for the massive support that came our way during the pandemic. So many deaths and sickness is very heart-wrenching.
This is hopefully my last article talking about our times the last two years. I am very aware that we are not yet finished with all this business, but I thought it would be interesting to talk about the last two years and the outlook going forward. I will also reference a couple colleges that were kind enough to add their opinions.
Over the last two years, from St. Patrick’s Day 2020 to St. Patrick’s Day 2022, our brewery was closed for a total of eight months. We tried to stay afloat with off-site accounts, crowlers to-go and beer give-aways to hospital workers, first responders and grocery and retail to keep the beer going out the door as opposed to sewering it.
Many of us owe a debt of gratitude to the U.S. government that offered grants, low-interest, long-term loans and forgivable loans that we applied for across the board. These lifelines allowed us to keep all employees on the payroll and also helped with utilities and ingredient procurement. Many of us in the brewing industry are so grateful for the massive support that came our way during the pandemic. So many deaths and sickness is very heart-wrenching.
As we move forward, I wanted to add some words from two of our great local brewers.
Laura Mullen, co-founder Bent Paddle Brewing Co.:
“The pandemic was very hard on all local small businesses, our brewery included. We were incredibly grateful for the multiple sources of government funds and incentives that helped keep us afloat and employing folks through the toughest times and required shutdowns over the last two years. Supply chain issues and associated increased prices for materials has had a huge negative impact to our profitability, but we continue to pivot to make the most for our business and feel confident about the future at this point.
Luckily, we have an amazing team of staff who have been instrumental in keeping the brewery and Duluth taproom humming along. And over the last few weeks you can feel a palatable change in the market — folks seem ready to be out and about. Togetherness as well as spring is in the air, and we look forward to seeking smiling faces into a great spring and summer and beyond for Duluth craft beer. We want to remind folks to always buy their favorite products, like craft beer, from local producers to help us all paddle forward hopefully back into some sense of normalcy in 2022.”
Ben Hugus, head brewer, Ursa Minor Brewing:
“The pandemic really highlighted the need to modernize liquor laws in the state, while many of us limped through supply shortages and business model changes, many of the archaic laws drawn up after prohibition really showed their teeth. The most prominent examples being the inability to sell growlers once a brewery passes 20,000 barrels or the inability to sell alternate packaging types in the taproom. We are hopeful these laws change quickly in order to allow small craft breweries to continue to adapt and change to the new and ever changing business landscape.”
Jamie MacFarlane, co-founder, Castle Danger Brewery:
"The pandemic hit us hard on several fronts. Customers were eager to help support small businesses during the pandemic, but due to Minnesota state law, we were unable to sell growlers. The aluminum can shortage had our main supplier cut our allotment so drastically that we had to find alternate sources that cost three times the price. We continue to see supply chain issues with delays in equipment and major price increases over the last two years. However, we introduced our year-round variety pack right as the pandemic started. That was lucky timing for us when everyone turned to liquor stores. We’re optimistic as sales are increasing due to bars and restaurants seeing customers returning to their businesses."
Thanks to Laura, Ben and Jamie for sharing.
As we look to the future, we are facing many challenges. Like many of you we are facing long delays and price increases on many of our necessary goods. From aluminum to grain to steel prices on brewing equipment doubling our future is still very much a challenge. I remain very optimistic well-being realistic about the next year or so. I am so proud of the brewing industry and the help that many of us have provided each other with supply chain issues, sharing information, providing yeast, grain and hops to each other when needed, just classy and outstanding.
Our goal is to provide a nice beer on your down time to enjoy. We are thinking of you all.
Best regards from your local brewers.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .