Duck Foot and other breweries offering home delivery during the Covid-19 crisis.
The entire U.S. retail economy has been put into a state of flux by the public policy response to Covid-19, and San Diego’s beer and booze industry is no exception. The past week saw our county’s hundreds of beer and booze producers scramble to respond to a changing regulatory landscape. Brewery taprooms were closed indefinitely following a March 16 county order, restricting their retail options to take-away orders, in-state shipping, and home delivery.
This forced breweries to make a difficult decision: stay open, and hope to sell enough to-go orders to weather the pandemic; or close out of concern for public health — knowing that, if respite doesn’t come soon, they might never re-open. In response, state trade association The California Craft Brewers Association announced it “will be asking the state to provide economic relief to our industry so that our over 1000 family-owned craft breweries across the state and the 50,000+ people they employ may have a chance to survive this crisis.”
Employees have factored into local brewery’s decisions a great deal. “We were most primarily concerned with our employees,” says Dande Bagby, cofounder of Bagby Beer Company, which opted to close its Oceanside brewery and restaurant. “Initially, we were most worried about their ability to stay afloat [financially],” she says. However, despite the “very expensive process” of shutting down its Oceanside brewery and restaurant, the Bagbys opted to send employees home, in order to avoid further risk to themselves or their community. “Once we decided to close,” she says, “we informed all of our staff immediately and encouraged them to file for unemployment… It is our hope that we can encourage other businesses to close, and folks to stay home, so we can get past this quickly and concentrate on reopening.”
Those businesses that have opted to stay open have had to navigate a week of legal uncertainties, but where we’ve landed is this: beer to-go is the norm, whether in cans, bottles, growlers, crowlers, or kegs. As a result, we’ve seen novel approaches emerge as beer and booze companies scramble to make up for the significant loss of business the pandemic has brought.
To facilitate to-go orders, a number of breweries have made online ordering available for take-out, include AleSmith, BattleMage, Rouleur, and Societe. There hadn’t been a great need for online orders prior to the pandemic, so many businesses have acted quickly to add the functionality to their websites.
Modern Times Beer has opened and closed its taprooms intermittently to serve takeaway beer, and has shifted some business to shipping cases of beer direct to consumers within the state of California. The Lost Abbey has likewise embraced a mix of beer to-go, in-state shipping, and recently added home delivery throughout north county.
There is likely home beer delivery in your area now, as breweries repurpose existing employees to offer home delivery of beer for the first time. “Wholesale orders have pretty much come to a halt with so many businesses closed,” says Suzy Pessutti, co-owner of Duck Foot Brewing Co., which has added home delivery to its take-away service. “At this point, it is more about getting rid of inventory to keep the business afloat and make enough to pay bills.”
“Sales are down and will be down for some time,” adds Robert Masterson, head brewer of Resident, which has tasked its regular delivery driver with making home delivery stops in between retail accounts.
“We want to be able to continue to pay as many employees as we can,” explains Hayden Weir, head brewer of Dos Desperados, where the tanks are full. “We had loaded up for accounts that are no longer taking orders, so we will just be sitting on what we have for a while.” Dos Desperados had been planning to celebrate its 6th anniversary, but instead of a party, it turned its anniversary canned beer release into a home delivery event.
How long this moment lasts will determine how many of San Diego’s nearly 200 beer and booze businesses (and 100-plus wineries) remain when the pandemic finally passes. For now, beer fans hoping to support their favorite locals have new, unexpected ways to get beer. However, whether a business remains open or decides to close for the duration, a sentiment shared by many of them reflects the anxiety of our time:
“We cannot survive indefinitely.”
For updated status about specific breweries, consult the collaborative spreadsheet started by beer writer Ian Cheesman here: bit.ly/HelpSDbeer