Brewers react to Covid-19

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In a heartbeat and a breath, the world of brewing was changed. Worldwide bars were closed, shops shut and sales of beers plummeted. A virus that started in a province in China Swiftly engulfed most parts of the world, and the outbreak is still causing severe global disruption. All around the world millions of hectolitres of beer was left in storage tanks –unsold and undrunk. And sadly much of it has had to be destroyed.

Faced with the prospect of dumping thousands of litres of beer that couldn’t be delivered to restaurants and hotels due to coronavirus closures, a brewery in western Germany got creative — and gave it away. The Willinger Brauhaus in the western state of Hesse gave away thousands of litres of beer. The beer was intended for restaurants and hotels, but Covid-19 restrictions made the brewery’s deliveries to its regular customers impossible. As several states in Germany look to slowly reopen restaurants and bars in the next few weeks, owner Franz Mast said the brewery needs to empty its tanks and fill them with fresh beer. Rather than pour the beer away the brewery decided to give it away.

German breweries are several weeks ahead of those in the United Kingdom. According to UK industry sources, more than 70 million litres of draught beer sitting in the cool cellars of pubs and bars will have to be destroyed. According to figures released by the British Beer and Pub Association, the licensees from 50,000 pubs will be pouring their beer away. For many, it has been heartbreaking. And with some pubs in the UK not expected to reopen until the middle of July, because of social distancing rules, many will be expected to stay closed for even longer.

“Although the UK Government has said that the duty paid on the wasted beer can be claimed back by brewers and pubs, it is still an enormous task” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association. Most breweries in the UK are open but producing very little beer.

Harveys head brewer Miles Jenner said: “At the end of May we brewed Best Bitter for the first time in nearly three weeks and the fermentation is underway. We are operating in small teams, suitably separated and/or working in isolation. Our second brewer, Peter Yarlett, oversaw the entire operation with two members of staff. In the same time, we filled 500ml bottles and 5-litre kegs of Best Bitter with a team of four. We are seeing a growing demand from off licences and on-line sales for deliveries to domestic customers. We hope to operate on this basis throughout the state of emergency, keep our yeast strain alive and supply the many customers who continue to support us in their own homes.”

In Asia, Sri Lanka’s Lion Brewery has resumed exports after the island nation eased a two-month lockdown imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In an official statement, Lion Brewery said that the resumption of economic activities has allowed the company to ship to markets in Australia, Canada, South Korea, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and the US. “Global consumers and Sri Lankans living overseas can now again enjoy world-class Lion beers,” Lion Brewery said.

Heineken and Tiger Beer have taken measures to revise marketing strategies and double-down on product innovation after seeing online sales surge after the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak hit on-trade consumption. Despite losses from on-site beer consumption wrought by lockdowns throughout the region, the firm has maintained that online sales have more than made up for this. “Where countries have to close food and beverage(F&B) outlets and implement some form of lockdown as part of safe distancing measures, we have seen an impact on the sale of our beers,” Heineken and Tiger brand director Maud Meijboom.

The Canadian Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) has issued an open letter stating that the majority of craft breweries in Canada are in trouble – with most not being profitable even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Though overall revenues and market share continue to grow, CCBA urged that the nature of a small manufacturing business is that it needs constant reinvestment, especially in the early years. “Craft beer businesses are actually three businesses: a manufacturing company, a licensed restaurant, and a retail store. For these reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the Canadian craft beer community,” the letter read.

In Australia pubs have been closed for months in Covid-19 hell. They face a long battle to survive under tough new restrictions on trade as Australia creeps out of lockdown.

In the UK, the consumer group the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Chairman Nik Antona summed up the feelings of many. Antona was announcing the establishment of the Brew2You scheme, which encourages people to buy direct from a local brewery. He said: “These are unprecedented times in the brewing, cider and pub industry, and it is now that we all have to pull together to help keep the UK’s producers and pubs afloat. We want to connect people with pubs as well as beer and cider producers in their area so that they can purchase great beer or a hot meal locally, rather than relying on the supermarket. This could end up being a real lifeline for people who are unable to get a delivery slot and could help ease some of the stress and burden of self-isolating during these troubling times. Pubs and breweries need our help now more than ever – without a strong show of support from local communities, many are destined for permanent closure.”

First publication: Beer & Bar Magazine, issue 12

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