Sonoma County breweries were able to navigate COVID between federal aid and loyal supporters

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Unlike their counterparts in the wine industry, local craft brewers were more crippled when the coronavirus began to wreak havoc on the economy last spring.

Most craft breweries make most of their money selling taprooms directly, while bigger players such as Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing dominate the retail shelves.

After the taprooms closed in mid-March 2020, as public health officials sought to stop the spread of COVID-19, brewers found themselves scrambling over how to keep business going.

This included Barrel Brothers Brewing Co. in Windsor, where co-founder and master brewer Wesley Deal also saw an opportunity for his business located in some sort of industrial park west of the city.

“We started to realize that we have this whole taproom building that we’re paying rent on and that really doesn’t do anything for us, especially since our business was more focused on production, because that was the only one. average we could sell beer, ”said Deal, a 30-year-old who is also in the process of earning a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Southern California.

The case pulled out half of the tap room to install two large grain silos so the brewery could save on malt costs by buying in bulk. The 10,000 pounds of storage capacity allowed the brewery to save up to 40% on malt. He then added large vacuum distillation equipment that enabled the brewery to make a new line of non-alcoholic beers that became popular. The remaining alcohol was then used for a new line of canned cocktails that feature flavors such as lemon drop with orange blossom and lime cosmos makrut, which are part of an emerging category “au “beyond beer” which is growing.

“It’s a challenge for a lot of people who have been brewers their entire careers to have an infrastructure built to make beer where it’s hard to change,” said Deal. “That’s the interesting thing for me, coming more from a food science background and having the ability to experiment and meet new people and share concepts… coming back to this innovation thing. I think this is such a cool way to align your business.

Other North Bay brewers have been forced to adapt over the past 18 months as they grapple with on-site consumption restrictions. Sonoma County has more than two dozen breweries. St. Florian’s Brewery in Windsor closed just before the pandemic and another, No Quarter Brewing, also in Windsor, closed two months ago, noting in a Facebook post that “we haven’t been able to recover financially for respond to management requests. “The latter company has announced that it will launch a crowdfunding campaign to find a new location.

“There has been a huge change in channel,” said Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, which represents independent breweries in the United States. “Consumers drank roughly the same amount of beer. “

Breweries could not sell locally or ship kegs to bars and bars. Thus, they focused on increasing retail sales and selling cans directly to consumers, whether for pickup or delivery. Some have also started using e-commerce – a channel that has been vital for local wineries – to help them generate income as it is more profitable to sell directly to consumers.

“The demand never went away,” Watson said.

The number of breweries in the country has actually increased. At the end of 2020, the United States had 8,884 breweries, an increase of 4.5% from 2019. Small breweries have benefited enormously from federal assistance estimated at $ 1 billion between the Paycheck Protection Program and the restaurant rescue fund, Watson said.

Going forward, some of the new hubs will be part of the breweries’ business plans, especially when it comes to being able to sell online. Russian River Brewing Co. sold its coveted special version of Pliny the Younger in a matter of minutes. These online sales now represent almost 10% of the brewery’s total turnover, said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of the brewery.

Moonlight Brewing Co. and HenHouse Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa have also been able to ship direct to consumers’ homes, although these sales are limited to California consumers only. This option is more difficult than with wine because beer is more perishable and packages must be dispatched for delivery within a day, resulting in higher costs to keep the beer cool.

The California Craft Beer Association is pushing for SB 620, legislation next year that would help codify online shipping orders for beer and give breweries in other states the ability to ship beer to California. The end goal of the measure is to achieve parity with what wineries can now do by being able to ship to 46 states, including California, said Lori Ajax, executive director of the group.


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