It’s been a rough few months for American craft brewers who entered 2020 riding high. The 2010s were a decade of great success that began with under 2,000 breweries and concluded with well over 8,000! Then Coronavirus hit, and mandatory closures of bars, taprooms, and restaurants across the nation plunged the industry into a panic.
On April 7, the Brewers Association reported that the average brewery saw sales drop by a staggering 75%. Though numbers remained low at 50%, another assessment on May 29 reported that, “a majority of breweries remain confident their business will survive 2020.” Between 15-20% were still unsure.
Now in July, halfway through the year, sales continue to fluctuate as some states (like California) are once again mandated to close down bars and restaurants with restrictions similar to those early in the pandemic. Breweries like San Diego’s Modern Times have been forced to put employees on furlough as a result, while others, like Gorilla Alchemy in Colorado, have shuttered permanently.
Yet many other breweries continue on, adapting to the ongoing economic crisis — and modern technology.
For brewer Brendan Gough of Liquid Gravity Brewing, the key to survival has proven to be letting go of his draft-only business model and switching to cans. Gough launched Liquid Gravity in January with a neighborhood taproom in San Luis Obispo, CA, and plans to keep things local. Now, Gough says he’s managed to stay afloat by selling cans of his creations to shops around California and, unexpectedly, going national through online beer retailer, Tavour.
Gough is not alone. With taprooms and restaurants either closed or operating at limited capacities, craft brewers all over the country are altering their business models and jumping into relatively novel solutions like curbside pickup, to-go orders, and perhaps, most significantly, online sales. They have to — before the pandemic, craft breweries were accustomed to 40% or more of their revenue from draft sales, the Brewers Association’s Chief Economist Bart Watson says.