Breweries feeling the bite of coronavirus closures

Published: Mar. 25, 2020 at 11:24 PM EDT
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In Virginia,

is forcing tap rooms and breweries to close or limit access, threatening a nearly $2 billion industry. As a result, brewers are having to craft a new way forward, turning to takeout and delivery options to stay afloat.

"We kind of figured this would be coming," said Big Lick Brewing manager Adam McDearman.

McDearman says Big Lick has adapted by taking beer orders online.

"We can fill crowlers, growlers, individual 16-ounce cans that we can put in four packs for people, that they can either come pick up at the brewery or we can deliver," he said.

One thing people can't do: come and have a seat at the bar. Big Lick, like so many other places, has had to close its tap room because of the coronavirus pandemic. And as a result, McDearman says sales have dropped "about 50 percent."

Breweries across our region are facing similar declines. Conversations with half dozen breweries in the Roanoke area show declines in sales of between 30 and 80 percent.

Trade groups and Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control have been trying to make it easier for these breweries to operate. VABC has relaxed requirements for beer deliveries, and has been speeding up approval for new labels. The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild has sent out guidelines on how to navigate the pandemic, offering links to "decontamination services" and "remote working" tips.

But not all breweries have been feeling the slowdown equally.

"I think we're doing okay. We're doing everything we can," said Ken McGraw, owner of A Few Old Goats Brewing.

McGraw says the size of his operation has allowed him to be flexible.

"Being small has really helped us in terms of overhead and things like that," he said.

Nonetheless, McGraw, Adam McDearman and others say the future for breweries remains uncertain in a lot of ways. The difference between staying alive and not, in this economy, may well be community support.

"As long as people are still ordering beer, we'll keep fulfilling orders, and we'll keep the doors open," said McDearman.

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