Beer, To-Go: How San Diego Craft Brewers Are Trying to Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

While tasting rooms are closed, many San Diego breweries have shifted to selling their beers to-go and canning products once planned for pints

Kris Anacleto/Booze Brothers Brewing Co.

With brewpubs across California closed during the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego’s independent brewers are tapping into their innate creativity to find ways to keep their businesses afloat.

For now, that creativity is being poured into “drive-thru” and curbside beer services, as well as delivery options.

Thorn Brewing Co., for example, launched a drive-thru program earlier this month as the coronavirus pandemic began to grip San Diego County.

On March 13, Thorn’s Barrio Logan location on National Avenue rolled out a delivery program that allowed customers to pull up in the alley behind the brewery and get canned beer delivered straight to their car.

A few days later, the brewery began offering beer delivery straight to people’s homes, within a 10-mile radius of the Barrio Logan location.

Since then, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered breweries to close their tasting rooms (and restaurants, bars, and "non-essential" businesses) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in places where people typically gather.

So, more brewers have shifted to the drive-thru and beer delivery models.

Kris Anacleto, president of San Diego Brewers Guild, told NBC 7 some craft breweries – including his own, Booze Brothers Brewing Co. in Vista and Oceanside – have found success with this model in the middle of the madness.

Like many of his fellow local craft brewers, Anacleto said he felt the “initial startle” of having to temporarily close his tasting rooms. After the jolt, he got to work plotting his next move.

Booze Brothers set up some pop-up tents outside the breweries and created a drive-thru option.

“We pivoted,” Anacleto explained.

The brewery got the word out on social media and devoted patrons, well, they delivered, showing up during modified hours to buy craft beer.

“It’s a different route than we’re used to, but it works really well, all things considered,” Anacleto said.

The San Diego Brewers Guild is made up of more than 150 craft brewers who work to promote the independent industry that has made a huge name for itself in America’s Finest City.

Anacleto said many guild members remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic, selling canned beer, T-shirts, merchandise and gift cards that patrons can buy now to support the small businesses, and use later. Others ship beer to customers.

For Booze Brothers, Anacleto said one of the biggest challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has been the brewery’s production process.

There’s a lot of beer left in the tanks – suds that were originally destined for the tap handles and freshly-poured pints – and now they’re just trying to can or bottle that beer and sell as much of it as possible.

Also, now is not the time to concoct new brews.

“We’ve had to switch that part up. At the moment we don’t have any intention of brewing any new styles of beer, but we are packaging off beer that was in tanks,” he told NBC 7.

Anacleto said the big issue is that most insurance companies won’t cover the beer that is already in tanks as wasted product due to the pandemic. And, not every small brewer has canning capabilities.

So, other breweries are offering growler refills as an alternative, while others have been forced to temporarily close because there’s just no sustainable way to really do business right now.

For those that remain open, Anacleto said every beer, growler refill or piece of merch that patrons buy right now is an important contribution to keeping the craft beer industry alive through these tough times.

“That’s going to go a long way because that’s income – to some degree – that helps keep the lights on,” Anacleto said. “Buy beer.”

Most breweries are using social media to get the word out on canning deals, specials and modified hours, so he said patrons should keep an eye on their favorite brand’s social media feeds.

Craft Culture & Camaraderie

San Diego’s craft beer community has long been known as a tight-knit bunch. Today, communication and camaraderie are more important than ever.

Anacleto said members of the SDBG are in constant communication with each other – by phone, text, or email – sharing tips on how to keep their businesses chugging along while staying on the same page with state and local orders that impact their industry.

Anacleto said the guild sends email updates to members often since things are changing so quickly. He said the SDBG is taking its guidance from the California Craft Brewers Association, which has compiled a list of resources for craft breweries during the coronavirus pandemic, including details on what breweries are still allowed to do.

The SDBG website – typically filled with details on lively events happening at local tasting rooms – has morphed, for now, into another hub where brewers and craft beer enthusiasts can find information on the impact of COVID-19 on the brewing world.

And, as the days and weeks unfold, Anacleto is sure local brewers will begin to lean on one another – as always – for support, ingredients, words of encouragement and maybe, eventually, a virtual toast or two.

After all, everyone -- everywhere -- is in the same boat.

“Whether you’re an established brand or a new brewery, we’re all figuring it out as we go,” Anacleto said. “Essentially, we’re all at a standstill, to a degree.”

And, while it’s not all good times and pints right now, the SDBG president knows that San Diego brewers – with their passion, heart, and skills – will figure out a way to adapt and rebuild in the so-called “Capital of Craft.”

“This industry is based around getting creative, being unique, problem-solving,” he said. “So, if there was ever an industry that could weather this storm well, I do think it would be the craft brewing industry.”

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