Craft brewers falling flat amid COVID-19 closures
MARSHFIELD, Vt. — Sales of wine, spirits and other alcoholic beverages have risen during the coronavirus pandemic like foam in a freshly poured glass of beer.
Just not for some brewers.
Craft beer, particularly brews made by small, artisan producers, is often consumed in bars, restaurants, tap rooms and brew pubs — all of which have closed in many communities across the country. While those brewers may sell some packaged brews or kegs, they rely on such venues to get by.
As a result, small, independent craft brewers have been forced to lay off workers and dump large quantities of their prized beverage. They’ve tried turning to curbside pickup and delivery of their product, but those won’t make up for the losses.
“COVID-19 has been devastating for small and independent craft brewers around the country,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association,
which he said has heard of dozens of breweries that have gone out of business.
Roughly half the brewers questioned in an association survey said they would have to close if the quarantine lasts more than three months, Pease said.
Some larger independent brewers whose beer is distributed to grocery and liquor stores have seen a bump in such “off-premise” sales during the pandemic, but they’re still losing ground without their tap rooms in use and bars and restaurants open.
Off-premise sales of independent craft beer are up 17% in the nine-week period that ended May 2 compared to the same time last year, but larger, commercial brands are growing at a faster pace, said Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol for the Nielsen Company.
Total beer sales — which include flavored malt beverages, hard seltzer, and cider — rose 20%. That compares to wine sales, which are up 30% and spirits ,which jumped by 34% in that time frame, according to Nielsen.
At Jack’s Abby in Framingham, Massachusetts, known for its lagers, coowner Sam Hendler said the company may have to dump 100,000 gallons of beer — even though it’s among the craft breweries who sell to groceries and liquor stores. It also has laid off about half of its staff of 150 with sales down well over 50% for April compared to that month last year.
“It will be a challenge to survive as one of the brewers that does distribution,” said Hendler, who is president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. And for “the brewers that don’t do distribution, it’s just a time game. When does business come back? And do they run out of cash before that happens?”
Many of the roughly 8,100 small independent breweries, which account for a 14% market share of all domestic beer by volume and 25% market share by dollars, rely on their own tap rooms or brew pubs to sell beer “on-premise” to customers.
They are not equipped to produce beer for off-premise sales, Pease said.
Andrew Kelley of Jack’s Abby brings a customer his order this month in Massachusetts.