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COVID-19 threatens booming beer business in Georgia

The beer business has been booming around Georgia as a result of the 2017 changes in state law that created more ways for breweries to sell beer and serve food.

Last year, small “own-premise” breweries hired chefs and built kitchens as part of new and evolving business models. And SweetWater, one of the biggest craft breweries in the U.S., unveiled a restaurant as part of its extensive taproom renovation.

But now, with bars and restaurants closed by the coronavirus pandemic, the crisis has quickly become a threat to breweries, too. And while it’s especially critical for small and hyperlocal brewpubs and breweries that rely on taproom and food sales, even production breweries that distribute through wholesalers are feeling the pinch when it comes to orders for draft beer.

This week, SweetWater closed its taproom, but it’s still open Wednesdays-Sundays for food and beer to-go orders with curbside pick-up. 

Here’s glimpse of what some other breweries are reporting and feeling about the current situation. 

Atlanta Brewing, Atlanta

“Things are uncertain right now as we try to navigate this new normal and what it means for our business,” says Cameron Davis, Atlanta Brewing’s marketing director. “I think we will see a steep decrease in draft sales as bars and restaurants close to the public, but hopefully that will mean an increase in can sales as people buy more to consume at home. We will just have to take it day by day.” 

“We made the difficult decision Monday to close the taproom until further notice, but will continue to sell to-go beer in expanded hours (M-Sat 11-7. Sun 12:30 -7). We have added all of our to-go beer options to Craftcellr to make it easier for people to pre-purchase and pick up at the brewery with limited interactions. We have also added gift cards in denominations of $25 to our website if people would prefer to support that way. 

“As a small business it is a scary time, and I know we are in the same boat as many others when we ask that people continue to support us through these uncertain times.”

Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta

“It’s been a rough couple weeks at Monday Night,” says Jonathan Baker, the Co-Founder and CMO of Monday Night. “We made the decision to temporarily close both of our Atlanta taprooms in the interest of employee and public health earlier this week. That decision came with many other ramifications. The truth is that the taprooms fund a good portion of the business, so with that revenue gone, we have had to furlough not only our taproom teams, but our sales and marketing teams.

“We are in the fortunate position of at least having a thriving wholesale business, which will hopefully continue to bring in revenue on the off-premise side (our guess is primarily through grocery stores for now). The closure of bars and restaurants will certainly have a big impact on things. Those guys are really hurting. It’s going to come down to timing, and when people can get out and about safely again. I can’t imagine what many smaller area breweries are going through, who don’t have a large wholesale business to fall back on. 

Reformation Brewery, Canton and Woodstock

“We’re committed to the safety of our crew, customers, and community first and foremost,” says Jessica Miller, Reformation Brewery’s creative and communications director. “We’re being responsive and evolving daily as new information makes its way to us.”

“Right now all Reformation Brewery taprooms are closed, but to-go beer with curbside pickup is available in Woodstock. Folks can order at reformationstore.com, and we will bring it out to them within the hour from 12-8pm, Mon-Sun (subject to change). We are working to add new options and restock daily. 

“The impact this has had on our small business is devastating, but nothing is more important than following health and safety guidelines right now.” 

Terrapin Beer Co., Athens

“Our production has not slowed down, but we are decreasing keg volume and increasing our large pack production as demand shifts to the off premise,” says Leah Keggi, Terrapin Beer’s marketing manager. “We increased our cleaning schedules at the brewery as well. We’re moving forward with new releases in the coming weeks, including Los Bravos in 6-packs and a new beer in our IPA Survival Kit called Cryosphere.

“We canceled our brewery tours starting on 3/11 and closed our tasting room on 3/15. Our taproom in Atlanta closed as of 3/18. We are working to launch a way to order beer for curbside pick up at the brewery in Athens, and our gift shop is open for pick up and to purchase gift cards for future use.

“We’re monitoring the situation and ensuring that we’re enacting all measures possible to keep our employees and our communities safe.”

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