BEER AND PANDEMICS 101: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BREWERY

Here at PGA we have had regular links to A Tempest in a Tankard, a website we highly recommend. Because of the crisis we have permission to post the whole article. Please visit A Tempest in a Tankard, where Franz will have more articles during this crisis.

Written by Franz Hofer for A Tempest in a Tankard

Never in recent memory has the phrase “support your local brewery” meant more than it does now.

I published an article in the local newspaper a week ago about the inaugural Oklahoma Craft Beer Awards. It began like this:

“Oklahoma may have been a craft beer desert a decade ago, but the beer scene has exploded in the past seven years. The Sooner State is now home to over sixty breweries, and just about every city has a brewpub or three.”

In retrospect, it seems I had begun to take craft beer for granted. I can find literally dozens more brands and styles now than when we moved to Oklahoma. Our town, Stillwater, has a brewery. When we go to OKC or Tulsa, we can easily spend an afternoon visiting new breweries and old favourites. And I’m set whenever I visit family and friends in Vancouver.

What a difference a week makes.

THE BREWING INDUSTRY AND THE FORCE OF EVENTS

You probably don’t need me to tell you that this probably isn’t going to end on a high note, at least not in the near future. World-historical events like Prohibition, the Great Depression, and the two world wars of the twentieth century wreaked havoc on the brewing industry (and many other industries besides). Even if beer consumption in North America ultimately rose during the postwar decades, the beer was produced not by hundreds or even thousands of breweries, but by an ever-smaller number of ever-larger conglomerates.

We face a similar situation today. All talk of a “craft beer bubble” seems impossibly quaint in the teeth of how Covid-19 will affect the craft beer industry. The spread of the Covid-19 virus is just the kind of world-historical crisis that will shutter smaller players and speed up consolidation. Friends and acquaintances in the brewing industry have already applied for unemployment assistance. When all is said and done, there will be fewer local breweries than there were in early March. Far fewer.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: BUY LOCAL

We may not be able to save each and every local brewery, but we can do our part to help our local breweries over the hump. Liquor stores are an option, but direct purchases will do more to help support community members who still have jobs at breweries and taprooms. (Governments will have to play a role, too, whether by easing regulations or extending loans and grants.)

The most important thing we can do is to resolutely buy local until the worst of the pandemic has passed. An acquaintance of mine in Berlin, Daniel Koening of Heidenpeters, summed it up nicely in a Facebook post to his community: “Invest in your local brewery. We all really need you to survive this crisis.” After pointing out that keg sales have dried up in the wake of restaurant and taproom closures, he urges everyone to “imagine what this means for all the breweries all over Berlin, we and our friends struggling hard.” He ends with an entreaty to buy local, and to resist the temptation to buy the “fancy stuff from Sweden or the US or wherever — one tall boy is a local 6-pack — buy local, this helps us and all the others here to stay open!”

So wherever you are, buy local, even if that means drinking fewer of your favourite beers from other states and countries for a while. Buying local beer will help ensure that we all have local breweries to visit once we can get back in the saddle and travel to far-flung places.

WHAT BREWERIES ARE DOING

Breweries are doing what they can to make buying local easier for us, and so are various other industry groups. Here’s just a smattering of what I’ve read or heard about recently.

As the reality of the pandemic was beginning to set in last week, Kehrwieder in Hamburg began offering free home delivery on standard-sized crates of 18 beers for fans who, by choice or by circumstance, couldn’t get out to buy beer. Not long after, breweries like Brlo and Heidenpeters in Berlin and Buddelship in Hamburg started offering beer to go.

The regulations governing beer delivery and pickup are much more of a patchwork in North America, but breweries across the continent are also finding ways to get beers out to thirsty fans, including curb-side pickup and home deliveries. Some are selling gift cards as well. “Think NY, Drink NY,” the communications arm of the New York Brewers Association, has a webpage where you can download an app to keep abreast of the latest developments. Jeff Alworth of Beervana has created a directory for Oregon of who’s doing what. And I’m in the process of compiling something similar for Oklahoma.

Perhaps the most creative means of supporting your local brewery comes from the Iowa Brewers Guild. They’re organizing a gathering they’re calling the “2020 Socially Distant BYOB Virtual Beer Festival on Saturday, March 28. Here’s how it works: Buy a ticket for $5, pick up some of your favourite local beer, and then join the virtual fest via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Proceeds will benefit the staff of breweries that are members of the Iowa Brewers Guild.

If you know of other local initiatives or of lists that folks have compiled on a citywide, statewide, or province-wide basis, let me know in the comments and I’ll begin adding them here.

In the meantime, I’ll be drinking an ocean of Oklahoma beer, but also hoping all those small, family-run breweries and Wirtshäuser (tavern-inns) in Franconia, in the Oberpfalz, and in the rest of Germany can weather this storm.

A virtual cheers to all of you! Be well in these opaque times.

Don’t forget to visit A Tempest in a Tankard!