Magie Brennan is an active member of Pink Boots Society and admin for the California Facebook community Craft Beer Girls.
The past ten weeks have been a roller coaster ride for the San Diego beer industry, as abrupt public policy shifts due to coronavirus have kept breweries and fans on their toes. Every individual beer company has had to navigate rule changes that that might crop up overnight: Can we stay open? What can we do to offer beer to go? Should we offer home delivery? Should we re-open to customers?
We have 160-plus breweries in San Diego County, and their answers have looked about as similar as a helles lager does to a pastry stout. Some have closed altogether, others have limited their hours, and a handful have operated relatively close to normal, minus the barstaff.
T-shirt from the San Diego Brewers Guild
As a regular industry watcher, I can attest: keeping track of how any individual brewery has addressed the crisis is challenge enough. From one week to the next, a brewery might drastically shift its opening hours, packaging options, and ordering system. Trying to monitor how the whole dang industry is doing? That’s the work of Atlas, or Sisyphus, or some other hero of myth.
In San Diego, it’s the work taken on by Magie Brennan. Since March, Brennan has kept busy maintaining an online spreadsheet updating the status of San Diego breweries during the covid-19 shutdown.
Originally, the spreadsheet was simple enough: it detailed whether breweries were open or closed to take-out business, and their operating hours. But as the weeks have gone on, she’s expanded its scope. Now there are columns to show which breweries offer home delivery, shipping, and links to online orders; and tabs highlighting the same info for mead, cider, and craft spirit makers. She even updates the database to reveal special offers, whether discounted beer prices or free shipping coupon codes.
Brennan didn’t do this because anybody paid her or even asked her to. She started doing it, she tells me, because she loves the beer community, and it felt like a positive, productive use of her time.
“I’m unemployed at the moment,” she says with a chuckle, “so I have a lot of time on my hands.”
Brennan has been involved in the beer industry and community surrounding it for years. She worked as a local beertender before the pandemic hit, and served as manager of the San Diego Beer Choir.
Despite being out of work herself, Brennan wanted to remain supportive of the industry she loved, and looked around online to find which of her favorite breweries were operating during the shutdown. She quickly realized it is a challenge. “Not every brewery is really good at keeping people updated on their social media,” she says, “I was getting frustrated, and my friends were getting frustrated.”
She started a comment thread on a local beer industry Facebook group, asking industry insiders to update their circumstances. Beer writer Ian Cheesman appreciated her effort, and set up a Google Docs spreadsheet, so the information could be more easily organized, updated, and shared.
Brennan has taken the concept and run with it. Once or twice a week, she scours local breweries’ social media channels to catch any changes, reaching out to a brewery directly when there’s any confusion, or a lapse in communication.
For those of us in and around the industry, the spreadsheet has proven an invaluable resource toward understanding what the businesses have been doing, and helping us to understand where and when we can go buy fresh beer to support them. The San Diego Brewers Guild has gone so far as to add a link to the spreadsheet on its home page, with a button marked “Brewery Statuses.”
Now, as taprooms begin to re-open, the spreadsheet has become more relevant. A week following the news taprooms could conditionally re-open, barely 30 percent of them have chosen to do so. Brennan has added a column showing which are open (highlighted in green to make them easy to spot). For those that have announced impending re-opening dates, she’s updated that too.
Brennan plans to keep up the work at least through mid-June as these changes continue, and is hopeful most will figure out a way to open by that time. “I’m curious about the [breweries] that have been completely closed,” she says, “I think it’s even more important once we find out they’re open, to support them… they’ve had zero revenue all this time!”
Magie hopes the spate of re-openings will add to her own future revenue. This industry folk hero is on the market for a new beertending job.