Drinkers Weigh Options as Breweries and Bottle Shops Reopen

As the world attempts to regain some semblance of normalcy, brewery taprooms and bottle shops are beginning to unlock their doors. They’re hoping for a sales boost after COVID-19 shifted consumer buying habits. And now that states are beginning to relax regulations, consumers nationwide are considering their options. 

Initially, California’s shutdown was to last only a few weeks. Riverside County native Clay Spiegel decided that length of time would “require a lot of beer. When everyone was trying to stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, I started trying to stock up on beer,” Spiegel says. “I was just buying cases of Mexican lagers and local craft beer.”

After the stay-at-home mandate, Spiegel sought out options that wouldn’t require store visits. San Diego’s Stone Brewing offered delivery and Temecula’s Black Market Brewing offered a large pizza plus a six pack deal for easy, contactless pickup. Both became favorites. Stone’s Buenaveza, a salt and lime lager, and Black Market’s Great White Buffalo, a white coffee stout, were the standouts.

For Jon in Somerville, Mass. (who chose to keep his surname private), the pandemic meant maintaining a full fridge two ways: splitting delivery orders with a roommate, and curbside pickups at nearby favorites Idle Hands Craft Ales and Notch Brewing to “support my locals and get super fresh, and sometimes limited, releases.” 

Aware that he was in a high risk area of the country, Jon says he “really tried to limit [his] in-store purchases during this pandemic,” while admitting to a couple purchases when super limited options became available like double dry-hopped IPAs from Portland, Maine’s Bissell Brothers.

In Chicago, Ph.D. candidate—and Metropolitan Brewing part-timer—Marty Tomszak chose to spend his money at breweries he felt obliged to help keep afloat during this tumultuous time. “Though I have a limited income, especially during the summers, my central question when approaching purchases was, ‘Which business can I not live without when this is over?’” he says.

Alichia Sawitoski, who runs the Chicago chapter of Girls Pint Out, had similar reasoning, saying “mainly we’re trying to support those that we would be heartbroken to see go under.” 

For both that meant ordering beers online like Off Color Brewing’s Beer for Golf, a Belgian Wit, and picking them up in person. Sawitoski also added Chicagoland favorites Maplewood Brewery and Forbidden Root Brewery to her rotation while Tomszak rounded out his purchases at Half Acre Beer and Metropolitan Brewing.

So what now? How are cautious beer fans approaching the new reality of reopened businesses at a time when the coronavirus is still spreading?

The Northeast, including Massachusetts, got hit hard by COVID-19. Somerville’s proximity to Boston (less than three miles) gives Jon pause about changing his buying habits. He admits he “might go to the actual stores a bit more,” but the contactless pickups and delivery options have been so effortless that they might be a hard habit to break.

“Trust me, there’s nothing more I’d love than to be at a taproom again,” he says. “But I’m in no rush. Even if they opened in my area, I’d wait at least a couple weeks to see how things shake out.”

Spiegel says he “feels nostalgic about drinking at the bar,” but he isn’t in a real rush to hang out at a brewery, either. With restrictions easing and people “flocking to get out,” Spiegel admits having three young kids at home—and not wanting to expose them or himself to risk—has made his decision easier.

“I’m really happy to continue to support the breweries that make it easy on my conservative approach to this pandemic,” he says. “I’ll continue buying beer remotely.”

Once Illinois opens in July, Tomszak also plans to continue his current purchasing patterns. Likewise, Sawitoski is content to hold off a week or so before heading back out (or she says, after she “gets a read from some friends who are more eager”), opting to break into her stockpile of stouts and lambics, while picking up occasional orders of hoppier and warm weather styles.

“We are excited, though, about being able to do small gatherings of friends. Being able to bottle share on our own patio will be enough to keep us buying regularly through the summer.”  

Matt Osgood is a New England-based journalist.

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