photo credit: David Mulvihill

Beware the Ides of March 

On Sunday, March 15, California’s Governor Newsom held a press conference focused on managing COVID-19, the virus that has affected how we are currently living our lives. The following statement made during the conference was especially pertinent to multitudes.

Governor Newsom: “We are directing that all bars, nightclubs, wineries, brewpubs and the like be closed in the State of California. We believe that this is a non-essential function in our state and we believe that it is appropriate under the circumstances to move in that direction.”

After watching and listening to the entire press conference, realizing that the above directive would affect so many people in an industry that I have grown very close to, I was seriously concerned. The unfolding threat of COVID-19 was relatively new to us all at the time and the directive gave rise to strong questions. Were basic rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness being challenged? While it’s obvious (to most) that alcoholic beverages aren’t by themselves life-sustaining, didn’t the powers-that-be understand people’s jobs and small businesses are? On the surface this statement inferred that thousands of small businesses and thousands of jobs Californians perform for a living are non-essential functions. Livelihoods depend on these “non-essential functions” as does California’s economy. 

Following, are a few statistics on just one of these non-essential segments (from the CA Craft Brewers Association). The Craft Brewing Industry supports more than 61,335 jobs across our state. As of October, 2019 there were 1,039 craft breweries in CA. They contributed over $9.01 billion to the state’s economy in 2018.

Overcoming Challenges

In the days that followed it became more apparent that increased distancing and isolation would be necessary by every individual and business in order to kick virus butt. Restaurants that, for a few days, were allowed to remain open in most locales, were also required to close. To-go sales would now be the only option for restaurants, pubs, breweries and bars. Note that the California ABC also stepped up on March 19, in light of the crisis and in favor of the businesses it licenses, by instituting Regulatory Relief from restrictions on things like off-site sales and deliveries by on-site licensees. 

Given this column’s focus on beer, let’s return to the breweries and brewpubs and their ongoing efforts to stay in business, one growler, crowler, six-pack or four-pack at a time. Local breweries and brewpubs quickly rallied to change the way they conducted their daily business. Social media presence was increased to communicate and promote sales for offsite consumption, including home deliveries. Package deals and quantity discounts have also been offered by many brewers as further incentive for increased sales. Many brewers enhanced pre-order ability through partnering with ordering apps and websites (toasttab.com; Toast TakeOut app, etc.). Loyal customers and patrons began individual efforts and quests to support their local breweries. Purchases and spreading of the word commenced. 

The necessary closing of taprooms and restaurants meant key staff was laid off or furloughed. 

I stopped by Artifex (San Clemente) on March 17 for a crowler fill and found owners Nick Cordato and Johnny Johur toasting and bidding a hopefully short farewell to their sales and tasting room staff members. A few days later, when picking up some preordered crowlers, I witnessed a strangely different sort of deja vu that brought me back to the time period when Nick and Johnny were running the brewery sans employees in the early days of Artifex. They, like most owners and brewers across California, the U.S. and the world are looking to do whatever they can to weather this storm and come out the other side intact.

Joining the Efforts:

Please do whatever you can to assist in the efforts to support our local breweries and businesses. In addition to ordering beer for pickup, consider purchasing gift cards and merchandise. Any financial help brewers receive today will aid in their continuance after this mess is behind us.

And, every little bit does help. The Brown Family of San Diego’s Savagewood Brewing recently reported the following. “We did the math. [The sale of] Just 40 cans a day will keep the lights on and beer flowing. So please tell your friends!”

El Segundo Brewing experienced such an overwhelming response in beer orders that it had to adjust its same-day order pickup to next-day pickup.  

Breweries have also rallied efforts to raise funds for their laid off employees. Below, are just a couple of examples of the efforts in play by many breweries. 

San Diego County’s Culture Brewing, with three tasting rooms, has started a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to raise funds for its absent “faces behind the bar.”

www.gofundme.com/f/culture-brewing-co-covid-staff-support

San Juan Capistrano’s Docent Brewing has a similar fundraiser in process to “ease the burden on an exceptional group of people who make Docent so very special.” www.gofundme.com/f/docent-staff-relief-fund.

Distilleries and breweries across the nation are also cooperating in a temporary shift to manufacture hand sanitizer. One example: Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana has contacted and placed social media calls out to local brewers for mash and/or batches of beer that could be distilled for making hand sanitizer: “Local BREWERIES, come partner! We need mashes faster than we can make them for hand sanitizer. Let’s Talk! If you have any bad batches, we can distill it immediately for hand sanitizer and keep your breweries producing! Let’s make this a community effort to meet the insane demand.” 

Many uncertainties still exist at the time of this writing on March 21, six days that have seemed like an eternity. There’s comfort in knowing that we, as family, friends, neighbors, associates and citizens are here to provide whatever help and support we can to assure a fruitful tomorrow.

PS

I had to chuckle when seeing a recent post from a friend that contained a photo of a card Molson Coors representatives presently carry in conducting their daily work: “I am an employee of Molson Coors Beverage Company. We provide multiple “Essential Businesses” including grocery stores, convenient stores and restaurants with supplies necessary for their operation. As a result, we are an “Essential Business” and I am allowed to travel to and from work under the existing public health order.”