Feature written by Brian Trivitt
COVID 19 AKA, Coronavirus. The continual impact and panic it continues to inflict worldwide is astounding. I am trying to remember any modern epidemic that has escalated so quickly literally day by day. It’s coincidental name, is, of course, spawned some jokes on social media about Corona beer, but at this point, things have gotten so serious any humor regarding this has pretty much vanished.
After having the pleasure of meeting with the owner of Craft Beer Austin, Mrs. Pam Catoe, she asked me to write an article on the impact the Coronavirus will have on craft beer. I obliged, and then explained that my goal of this article would be for it to be (relatively speaking) short and sweet and a brief analysis on the impact but also a request for people to put their differences aside and support one another, along with local businesses, and of course, craft breweries.
On the subject of the impact, there is no denying its impact on a majority of industries and organizations, including craft beer is being felt throughout the U.S. and the world. This is only being exacerbated by that we are right in the middle of when educational institutions have spring break, which is normally a time marked by people going on vacation, enjoying a “staycation,” college basketball, and a wide range of events. Instead, you have widespread panic that is resulting numerous event cancellations and public closings of everything from schools to breweries that literally escalate daily. Of course, here in Austin, the really big, unfortunate news was the decision to cancel the annual SXSW event. When you consider how many people who would have come to Austin and enjoyed some local craft beers at numerous establishments, the opportunity cost for breweries seems to be quite significant, not to mention the fact that breweries brewed more beer in anticipation of several thousand thirsty visitors. Even more specific in the craft beer world, the Craft Brewer’s Conference that was scheduled for April in San Antonio this year along with the World Beer Cup have all been cancelled. These events are a great opportunity for some newer and legacy breweries to gain exposure and sadly, they will be missing out. I’m not going to make this into a debate of what should/shouldn’t be cancelled nor how certain things should be handled, but rather, my goal is to provide a brief analysis on the impact to craft beer and what you can do to help.
Since we are right in the middle of this epidemic, no data is yet available as to the overall impact on craft beer sales. As for big beer, an article from 02/27/2020 stated that ABI estimates they have lost roughly $285 million in revenue due to the virus. ABI actually controls sales of Corona in every country around the world besides the U.S., so when you consider that China has over one billion people and many local establishments have and continued to be closed, this is not that surprising. Ironically, another article from as recently as 03/10 states that Constellation Brands, who controls Corona for the U.S., states sales of the beer are actually up 5% through 02/26/2020. That said, take a look at the date of 02/26/2020, and just consider how much worse both in terms of infections and overall panic things have gotten in the past two and half weeks.
On the craft front, I was recently visiting with the one of the owner’s of Austin Beer Works, Mr. Michael Graham, who pointed out that many people are stocking up at grocery stores on many items, including beer. Again, I don’t have any data yet available to compare YoY differences in off premise sales, but what comes to mind is how much smaller and even mid size craft breweries these days rely on successful tap room sales. Tap rooms seem to be a big focal point in this day and age of 8000+ breweries and counting, in that several articles about craft beer’s recent slowed growth have focused on how very small craft breweries are actually having the most success in terms of percentage growth by giving people a very personal experience with the brewers and owners in the tap room. If you need further proof of just how important tap rooms are, look at Boston Beer Company’s recent decision to open a new taproom in Boston, which, not surprisingly, is closed for the next few weeks.
Taprooms are, of course, public places, and involve bartenders handling glassware that people drink out of and many people often close by each other standing in lines and sitting at tables. One of the greatest things I’ve always loved about craft beer is this comradery that it brings, with people from many different walks of life, beliefs, and income levels in a common place where sometimes they end up making a new friend with a total stranger over simple conversation about beer.
Some breweries are taking the precautionary measure of temporarily closing all together, while the ones opened, are implementing everything from bartenders wearing gloves, using disposable cups rather than glasses, using chalk boards rather than menus, eliminating board and card games to prohibiting people from sitting at the bar. If this measures aren’t extreme enough, some such as Yard’s Brewing is literally sending out e-mails to its subscribers that “discourage all personal contact within our brewery and taproom, including shaking hands.” Treehouse is taking even more extreme measures, as they are exclusively selling their beer in cans and building a wall with a hinged window to minimize contact during to go transactions.
So what can you, the craft beer drinker, or perhaps somebody who just happens to have run across this article do? I don’t have a definitive answer for that, as I will probably get in trouble if I say “go out and try to support your local craft breweries,” for the simple fact that right now, people are supposed to be minimizing contact with one another. That being said, my request is that besides protecting the health of yourself and loved ones is that you do your best to remain positive throughout this and be thankful for your health. Life is short, and sometimes we get caught up in negative thoughts because of our own circumstances and/or holding a grudge against a certain person. Rather than live in that perpetual negativity, how about shooting a text to that neighbor/relative/former friend you possibly had a disagreement with and offer to buy them a craft beer? You may be surprised how that person you had a run in with reacts when they hear you say, “you know, I’m just thankful to be healthy and wanted to take a little time to catch up over this latest beer from brewery XYZ, as the folks who own it are very nice people and have taken a financial hit due to the health crisis.”
Lastly, not to be negative, but as I write this (03/16/2020), there isn’t really a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t really believe in sugarcoating things, but one thing to keep in mind is that mankind has survived many tragedies over the centuries and we will surely eventually get through this. On a brighter note, I have already mentioned to Pam about organizing a “craft beer economic stimulus” event in the future in an effort to help breweries and other local businesses recoup what they lost as a result of all this chaos. Stay tuned for more coming details.