COVID-19 Positive Results (The Good Kind!): Looking for the “Bright Side” of 2020

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From the Tap: Musings from the Taproom Committee

2020 has been an unprecedentedly challenging year for many breweries, but despite the hardships, the members of the Taprooms Committee have managed to find some “positives” along the way, citing community service, good feelings, and recognition; excitement in the wings as new equipment is scheduled to arrive; and fun all around for customers, owners, and staff.

The insights below are just a quick look at some of the positive reflections our committee reported about 2020 so far. How has your brewery handled this unprecedented year? What positives can you report if you take a moment to look for a “bright side” of 2020? Let us know on the Taproom forum.

At Kodiak Island Brewing in Kodiak, Alaska, owner Ben Millstein built himself a deck, bought a still to expand into a new line of production beyond beer, and received a surprise award from his area’s Lions Club to recognize his work in setting up a local food co-op market in his tasting room.

A new canning line made the difference at Broken Strings Brewery in Orlando, Fla., where owner Charles Frizzel saw the necessity to package beer once forced to shut down. After hiring a mobile canner to help out, he and his team decided to take the plunge and invest in their own machine. Being able to have weekly can releases has been the most important thing that has allowed his brewery to stay healthy during this time.

Nicole Smith of South Lake Brewing Company in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. reports their best quarter ever in three and a half years of business so far. She attributes this to a 400% increase in can sales year over year, and is also looking forward to the addition of a new canning line, set to arrive soon.

Likewise, at Mountain Cowboy Brewing Company in Frederick, Colo., owner Michelle Yovich reports her best quarter so far in just under three years of business. They turned their parking lot into a large biergarten and have had a lot of fun outside while maintaining social distancing guidelines and keeping their customers safe. They look to keep it going and are investigating in clear igloos and additional patio furniture for the winter. Staff has come together and seems to be having fun too, which makes the brewery more fun for customers as well.

At Topa Topa Brewing in Ventura, Calif., owner Jack Dyer is also putting their canning line to good use, running it nearly full time as they’ve transitioned from primarily kegging to canning in response to COVID-19. The switch to canning also created some opportunities for organizational upgrades, even among staff. Promoting from within, Topa Topa advanced a talented cellarman into a packaging manager role, which has helped with staffing, quality assurance, and quality control, with great results so far, including three silver medals at the San Diego International Beer Competition with cans pulled directly from their canning line.

Tim Bullock of St. Elmo Brewing in Austin, Texas is hosting live music again, which is going well so far, and has taken some time to put together a rubric for anti-racism training with the brewery staff. Important stuff for sure!

And like many others on our committee, Jacqueline “JP” Parker of Birdsong Brewing Company in Charlotte, N.C. praises staff, noting that the team has stuck through some really challenging times and has become so much stronger as a result, with everyone chipping in to make things work and pulling together despite the complications of constant shifting and pivoting.

At my own brewery, Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, Va., we continue to focus on our motto, “Brewing Beer | Building Community.” The past nine months have seen us pivot from nearly 100% on-premise sales to a nearly 50-50 split in packaged carry out to pints sold in-house. Canning each of those pints, one at a time, on a 16-ounce Oktober can seamer has certainly been a challenge, but one that’s definitely brought our staff together and made our customers happy. Last month, we hosted our annual 0.5k race (yes, you read that right—just 650 steps of fun, with a donut/beer break at the halfway point) to support our local food pantry, ultimately raising over $20,000 for the cause. If nothing else, watching our customers “come together,” even while maintaining safe social distancing, has been the highlight of our 2020 for sure.