Taps are running dry at breweries across the country in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and some breweries are being forced to dump beer down the drain because it can’t be sold.
“It’s depressing to not see anybody in the seats,” said David Lin, the founder of Comrade Brewing in Denver, Colorado.
Named as a place for community, Comrade Brewing is one of many breweries stuck in a bitter reality.
“We’re in full survival mode now,” said Lin.
Most of his workers are furloughed, and he said the brewery is brewing about once per week. During normal times, the business would brew three times per week.
“They built their business on inviting people into the taproom, and if they can’t do that, then it’s going to put real strain on these businesses,” said Bart Watson, the chief economist for the Colorado based Brewers Association .
Lin said that strain weighs more heavily each passing day.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” he lamented. “Nobody wants to let people go.”
Lin said the brewery is cutting back wherever possible in order to preserve a shot at staying open permanently.
“We had to cancel our TV subscriptions, and we don’t run the heat anymore. That’s why it’s so cold in here. Just trying to find anything we can do to save money,” said Lin.
A skeleton crew now runs the deserted brewery—a stark contrast to a few months ago.
“We were having the best February we’ve ever had, and then March came with the shelter-in-place, and it killed us right there,” said Lin.
He and his colleagues won the 2019 award for Small Brewing Company of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival. Now, the prosperous business is pivoting in hopes of continuing their success past the pandemic. They are canning to-go beers for customers, selling as much as they can curbside.
“There was a big rush and huge demand for crowler cans and glassware,” said Lin. “In normal times, we’d order a palette of cans, and it would come in two days, the last one took 17 days,” he said.
On top of the rush to become a take-out shop, Lin, like many brewers, was forced to throw some of his business down the drain.
“Breweries already had a lot of beer in the system that needed to be sold and couldn’t be sold, and unfortunately some percentage of that beer may go out of code and may need to be destroyed,” said Watson.
Breweries across the country were gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness and the start of baseball season, so many had extra beer on tap. Since all the celebrations were stopped, some of that beer went stale and had to be tossed.
Lin sold kegs of beer to restaurants near his brewery, and now that those restaurants are closed or barely operating, much of the beer remaining in those kegs has gone stale.
“Probably will be about four dozen kegs we’ll have to dump when we can get them,” he said. “To kind of see it get old and get dumped down the drain, it’s a real tragedy for all of us."
He said his brewery fared much better than some breweries, who were forced to dump much more.
To add to the struggle these small business owners are facing: breweries like Lin’s don’t really fit the mold for the government loan programs.
“They weren’t designed for hospitality businesses,” said Watson. “They weren’t designed for people who had to close and have their revenue be down. It was designed to keep workers on, but that’s a real challenge if those workers have nothing to do."
Watson said he hopes for changes in potential future support packages to better help small hospitality businesses.
“These small businesses want to get back to work and re-hire their workers, but until they can fully reopen, that’s not realistic for many of them,” said Watson. “So, extending the time period in which they can get the loans, extending the time they need to rehire workers in order for forgiveness, those are the types of flexibility that small hospitality businesses need if they’re going to get back on their feet as quickly as possible."
The Brewers Association also has resources for breweries to help them through this tough period.
Despite all the challenges Lin and his fellow brewers have been presented with, this first-generation entrepreneur said he’s been overwhelmed by the incredible support in the beer industry.
He has already collaborated with other brewers to create hand sanitizer, and when he’s needed some extra supplies, brewers were quick to offer help. It’s a camaraderie he said he is thankful to tap into, especially now. Lin said he is also thankful he's built trust with the community, who continue to support his business each and every day.
“We’re all banding together, we’re all in the same boat, and I really think we just need to come together in these difficult times,” said Lin.
Because together, this once booming industry can look at its future pint half-full.