When it’s finally safe to go out for beers with friends again, the sad truth is there are going to be fewer places to do it.
To-go sales and curbside pickup have provided a narrow revenue stream that’s allowed many breweries to stay open, with scaled-down hours and staff, but owners say it’s a stop-gap model with a clock that’s running out. And it hasn’t worked for everybody.
On May 6, the owners of Iron Bird Brewing Co., in Colorado Springs, announced the permanent closure of the 6-year-old downtown brewery.
Elsewhere, fates are on hold, and in limbo.
“It is with heavy heart that we make this post today .... We no longer believe it is safe or socially responsible to open the brewery for any type of work or business,” read an April 1 announcement on the website of Colorado Springs’ Trinity Brewing Co. “Out of concern for our staff, our friends, and our community Trinity Brewing will be closed from now until ...... ?”
In early April, the Brewers Association sent out a survey to breweries to gauge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the weeks after mandatory closures, and the pivot to to-go-sales, in Colorado and nationwide.
Results, predictably, showed a steep decline in craft beer sales, as well as “massive furloughs or layoffs,” said Bart Watson, the nonprofit Boulder-based trade group’s chief economist.
While some larger craft brewers saw a bump in package sales as thirsty stay-at-homers scrambled to stock up, on-site sales — the bread and butter for most independent brewers — were down 65%, on average. Keg sales to bars and other outlets were down more than 90%.
Twelve percent of brewers who responded to the BA’s April 1 survey said they could survive another one to four weeks. Just over 2% said they’d had no choice but to close.
“A majority of breweries do not think their business can last three months given current conditions, suggesting thousands of closings,” said Watson, in an April 7 post on the organization’s website.
To help encourage customers to continue purchasing to-go beer from local breweries, the nonprofit Colorado Brewers Guild and the Left Hand Brewing Foundation have partnered on the Colorado Strong Fund and Colorado Strong Pale Ale, its signature benefit beer.
Colorado-sourced ingredients are provided by the Left Hand Brewing Foundation, free of charge, to participating breweries. Twenty percent of sales go back to the Colorado Strong Fund, which will be used to assist health care, hospitality, service industry and gig economy workers impacted or displaced by the pandemic.
“Breweries will brew the beer without having to worry about sinking cash into ingredients, and suppliers will get much-needed checks to help keep their operations afloat,” said Eric Kean, executive director of the Left Hand Brewing Foundation, in a statement.
Brewing of Colorado Strong is set to begin Friday, and it should be available for purchase starting May 10. Participating breweries include Pikes Peak Brewing Co., Black Forest Brewing Co., Brass Brewing Co., Lost Friend Brewing Co. and Fossil Craft Beer Co. For a $25 donation, homebrewers can get the recipe and info on where to buy ingredients locally.
Visit coloradostrongbeer.org for more information.
In addition, the Brewers Association has joined craft beverage nonprofit Bottleshare on the “Believe in Beer Fund,” with a goal of raising $1 million for grants providing immediate financial assistance to struggling independent brewers and the state guilds that support them.
Donors can contribute to the relief effort’s GoFundMe campaign through the end of American Craft Beer Week, May 17.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include the permanent closure of Iron Bird Brewing Co., announced May 6.