The country’s expanding craft beer industry runs the risk of going flat with brewpubs and microbreweries facing a winter of siphoned sales, spurred by expected shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the more than 8,300 independent breweries in the U.S., the vast majority of them — about 6,000 — are small-producing microbreweries and brewpubs, which thrive off of their on-premise beer sales. Beer sales on location have plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To raise awareness about local independent beer makers’ plight, the Brewers Association, the trade group representing breweries, on Nov. 29 is promoting Small Brewery Sunday — slotted between Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Some breweries will have special beers on tap and for sale, at curbside or delivered in some cases. Others will have special offers including discounted gift cards. (Find local breweries on the Small Brewery Sunday site.)
“These are extremely desperate times,” said Justin Cox, founder and CEO of Atlas Brew Works in Washington, D.C. “We hope people will go to local breweries and patronize them so they will be in existence when we come out of this thing.”
Breweries have typically seen sales fall about 22% in the July-September quarter, a recent Brewers Association survey found. Roughly two-thirds of those sales were to customers who could drink outdoors, suggesting that the cooler months may lead to even bigger sales declines.
Another finding: Nearly one-fourth of breweries (22%) are not confident they will still be in operation this time next year. With many regions increasing restrictions and cold weather muzzling outdoor consumption, smaller breweries face “an existential threat,” said Bob Pease, president of the Brewers Association.
“It’s very important we get the word out about the challenges these breweries are facing and remind consumers these businesses are part of the local economic fabric, they hire and employ your friends and your neighbors,” Pease said. “They have been local gathering points and they are often heavily involved in involved philanthropic efforts in the community.”
Beer lovers shouldn’t take for granted the nation’s brewing abundance, Pease adds. Currently, more than two-thirds of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery, the association estimates. Craft breweries contributed $82.9 billion to the U.S. economy, employed more than 580,000 workers, and donated more than $80 million to charities, the group says.
Beyond that, when pandemic mandates are lifted, brewpubs and taproom are unique spots to drink, eat and congregate.
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