The state recently tossed a lifeline out to more than 100 craft brewers as part of an effort to keep people in their homes. Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order on April 2 allowing liquor permittees to deliver alcohol to state residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Bars and restaurants were essentially closed off to the public in March to combat the spread of coronavirus. With taprooms devoid of paying customers, the local beer industry took a direct hit.
Now, to recoup revenue, some companies are delivering.
“I think for a lot of businesses, this is really a financial stress test,” said Chris Sayer, who co-owns Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford with wife Christina.
“I know we’ve rewritten our business plan twice in the last 30 days.”
The Sayers are feeling the economic impact of the pandemic. They said they’re missing out on 85% to 90% of their traditional business -- customer foot traffic in their building.
“But being able to pivot and adapt to the new market conditions is really important for any small business,” Chris Sayer said.
Brewery Legitimus took on the task of bringing the product to the consumer. Within 48 hours of the order being signed, the company executed its first delivery.
“We’ve delivered to probably almost 200 homes in the last week here, and people are keeping their distance,” Sayer said.
Still, not all brewers will enter the delivery game.
The major sticking point is the temporary nature of the order. The governor’s office told Connecticut Public Radio that the order will last only as long as a state of emergency remains in place and that new legislation would have to be passed by the Connecticut General Assembly to make it permanent.
Adam Delaura, one of the founders of Labyrinth Brewing Company in Manchester, said he’s not a “hard no” on delivery, but he’s not sure that what it would take to pull it off -- hiring drivers, ensuring the health and safety of delivery personnel and adding the cost of gas and insurance -- is worth it for something that, as of now, won’t be around in post-pandemic Connecticut.
“If we were a larger brewery that maybe already had a large distribution network or even a moderately sized distribution network, we could tap into that because we’d have drivers, we’d have vehicles,” Delaura said. “We’re so young that even when we’re delivering our cans to package stores and our kegs to bars and restaurants, we’re literally doing that stuff in the back of our personal vehicles.”
The Connecticut Brewers Guild reports that the local beer industry had a 2018 economic footprint of $753 million and that before the pandemic, 112 breweries employed over 6,000 workers.
Now, in a time of economic uncertainty, brewers are turning to delivery -- and curbside pickup -- for survival. But many aren’t sure how long they can sustain the economic hardship caused by the necessary COVID-19 social distancing measures.
Labyrinth laid off employees after the taproom closed. One other brewery -- Hanging Hills in Hartford -- closed its doors for good.