The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild says it’s only a matter of time before some of the small craft breweries will have to shut down if state leaders don’t step in quickly.
Earlier this month, workers at Bauhaus Brew Labs. wondered what to do with the Wheat Sweats, its Spring seasonal beer. The Minneapolis brewery had finished the second batch of the beer, a banana-scented hefeweizen, before Minnesota moved to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak by ending on-premises sales at bars, restaurants and taprooms on March 17th.
Demand for draft beer dried up, and Bauhaus kegs and cans filled its distributor’s warehouse, with no need for new inventory. On April 21st, in a scene reminiscent of Prohibition, the brewery decided to send more than 900 gallons of perfectly good beer down the drain. For Bauhaus and other craft breweries, kegging or canning beer that can’t be sold would be a wasted expense. And the beer is quickly approaching the dates set for peak freshness and quality, which then start to decline.
“It was a painful decision, and not one that we have ever had to make,” said Drew Hurst, the director of operations. But with plenty of beer already on hand, “there was literally nothing that we could do with it.”
Elsewhere, John Donnelly, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Modist Brewing Co. said his large cooler with thousands of dollars worth of beer and kegs are stacked high with no place to go.
“That’s what is going to sit,” said Donnelly. “And we’ll end up dumping that at some point.”
The battle to fight the spread of the coronavirus has done a number on the state’s beer industry. The stay-at-home order, the closure of restaurants and bars and a strict limit on crowd size has left breweries with an abundance of suds they’d like to sell.
“Definitely was not in the business plan,” said Donnelly. “Yeah, it’s scary, sad, disappointing. It is what it is. We’ve rolled with plenty of punches, but this is big.”
Need for a Change in Regulations
As breweries and tap rooms look to survive in the weeks ahead, industry leaders believe state liquor regulations are hampering their businesses, specifically, a ban on them selling standard four-pack and six-pack cans of beer on site. Customers can come and get a 64 oz. growler filled, but can’t buy a four-pack of beer totaling 64 oz. Donnelly says that difference matters right now.
“It would help literally every brewer in town, in this state,” he said.
“The scary thing is a lot of these organizations that we have in Minnesota won’t be around and that’s sad,” said Senator John Hoffman (DFL – Champlin).
State Senator Hoffman has taken note and sees no reason to limit breweries from selling beer in whatever vessel or form that will keep them afloat during this economic crisis.
“Maybe we do another small bill like we did that allowed restaurants to sell beer and wine? Do the same thing here,” said Hoffman.
For now, Modist will rely on liquor store sales as well as purchases of growlers and crowlers from their tap room bar front that remains open. The brewer received an emergency federal business loan to keep paying half its staff of 40 for the next two months, but Donnelly says beyond that, the future remains uncertain.