Pandemic closing down bars just rubs into our noses how social of a drink the beer is with its ritual of slowly pouring the hoppy liquid into a cold glass from a freshly installed tap.
The change happened quick – maybe we saw it coming few weeks ahead, but just like an avalanche in the distance, we preferred to merely be static spectators until it hit. Now, as the majority of us live in some kind of confinement because of COVID-19 pandemic, we face our typical everyday life changed drastically – no offices, no friends meetings, no festivals, and worst of all for some - less income.
Actually, combining the effects mentioned above draws the grim picture of craft beer industry's current state. That's an industry that runs on festivals, bars, friends, nice weather and being outside. Pandemic closing down bars just rubs into our noses how social of a drink the beer is with its ritual of slowly pouring the hoppy liquid into a cold glass from a freshly installed tap.
Bars and pubs not working means almost to no revenue for the small breweries as this is their main distribution channel. Add the fact that across Europe the small shops are not allowed to operate and the market seems to be completely cut off. "Many brewers see sales dropping by more than 80%", shared with me Karel from White Stork Beer Company, "Our natural channels are bars and events, like craft beer festivals. It is hard for a small brewery to work with big supermarkets", he added.
I was curious what will happen to the kegs of already brewed beer, ready for the warm season of festivals and outdoors. "We simply have nowhere to sell. The beer can hold its characteristics for a few months if stored in a cool place, but that still means far less sales and income until we have the chance to sell". The hope remains that the social distancing will not last too long and at least part of the summer will be at our disposal.
Bottled beer, being 65 to 75% of a batch, also appeared hard to sell, as big part of these also goes to the bars. Even in places where craft beer stores and other small businesses are allowed to operate, the visits to the shops dropped enormously.
So is there a way out? "We have to be creative", pointed out Karel, "the small breweries have the advantage of being flexible and fast moving - set up an online store, work with your retail partners, spend smart on advertising, it will pay off and you'll make it through the crisis." Examples of flexibility are everywhere indeed - it's easier than ever to get craft beer delivered to your front door, often with free delivery; the brewers started promoting soundly their brews, even organizing virtual tasting sessions, and some bars bottle draught beers as a takeaway. The social aspect lurks here too - brewers, shops and bars seek ways to work together as they realize it will be easy to overcome the difficulties this way. We, as customers, have our significant role also as we can support the local economy by grabbing some bottles.
So, with people getting beer to their homes, is beer as social of a drink as we think it is? In my point of view, the occasional bottle that I have, enjoying the spring through the open window, is just the small dose that makes me survive till I can go out and queue with friends for yet another draught.