Enjoying Independent Brewing in the Age of COVID

If you’re anything like me, then prior to the COVID19 pandemic hitting the US, the one thing you could rely on was Friday Happy Hour. You might have had the occasional stop in at a local establishment on the way back from somewhere during the week, or maybe a trip to a local brewery or beerfest on the weekend, or maybe a social gathering for a special event throughout the week where you would join one or two of you friends, but Friday Happy Hour was a given. The only uncertainty was the location and time for the meetup.


Then COVID hit…

(Dramatic music – DUN DUN DUHHHH!!)

While we are all aware that it has affected everything, since this blog is about craft beer, we will focus on that. First let’s talk about how folks may personally have been affected. No matter where you were you eventually had to go through a lock down of sorts. This meant stay at home orders were being enforced and only essential businesses or operations were allowed to be open. Social distancing rules went into effect. For some the rules changed literally overnight. Restaurants closed their dining and if they were lucky could still make to go meals to keep afloat. Breweries had to do the same, tap rooms were closed and only to go orders could be processed (Now aren’t you glad you had some growlers lying around!). And bars closed pretty much completely.


If you’re a serious beer or wine drinker then you have been stocking up your supply for a while now, so the lack of options at the local grocery store was not as big a problem. But those of you who only dabble in this were likely wishing you had a beer fridge now. I wonder how many have since gotten one to stock up for the next disaster. If you did have one, then how many of your bottles set aside for aging did you consume? And are you glad you aged those beers or was it a mistake? And if you don’t know what I am talking about, no this isn’t the nasty Natty Light you forgot you had in the back. This is the higher ABV beers that you purposely set aside to age in the bottle a bit more. They may have been waiting a year maybe two or three for you to try them.


I can tell you from my experience these specific beers that I had saved aged very well. Very well indeed! But then I only saved some of the best available to me. Goose Island Bourbon Stout, Founder’s KBS and Dirty Bastard, Weyerbacher’s Insanity and Merry Monks, Sierra Nevada’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Bigfoot, North Coast’s Brother Thelonious, all with higher ABV and rich flavor to begin with. Aging only deepened the flavor on them. Part of me wishes I hadn’t consumed them and could age them a bit longer. Now I will just have to stock those back up again and start aging them some more, and likely add other examples to the stock.


But the amount of beers I had stocked up wouldn’t last long. Luckily two things happened. As I mentioned above the to-go orders from local breweries were being processed either in canned production as local breweries First Magnitude, Swamp Head, and Cypress & Grove were (and still are ) doing, or in a more customized version where custom orders were filled in to-go crowlers and growlers as Blackadder Brewing was doing.


All of these establishments had their tap rooms closed at some point and were able to make it by with filling to go orders, though I suspect the production breweries were still able to sell their canned products in local stores more easily as supply chain disruption was affecting beer distribution on a national level more so than at a local level. The first group of breweries are production breweries that package their products in cans for the local market or in kegs for other establishments. First magnitude rearranged their brewery for drive thru service. Blackadder is a small brewery/pub that produces their own small batches for consumption on premises and brings in some of the best guest beer to fill out their other taps. For them, I am sure the going was a bit rougher.


Even though I and other locals did our best to get to-go orders placed with them, for any business that relies more heavily on the customer coming into the premises, these last few months have been tough. But as the rules for businesses laxed, Blackadder was one of the first to get their ducks in a row and prepare for social distancing measures both inside and outside their establishment. Getting folks back in was a priority but they also wanted them to be and feel safe. This was also true for the larger production breweries. Many of them rearranging their tap rooms and their bier gardens to accommodate the new rules.


In the interim, our little beer circle began making use of the latest in social media applications to hold virtual happy hours (tipping my hat to the Maestro for thinking of it and subscribing) so we could continue keeping up with each other.
If any of you used similar applications, then I am sure you encountered similar issues. People not used to virtual viewing had o get used to it. Finding the button for video (whether you wanted it on or off), people talking at you and getting frustrated because you can’t hear them because they’re muted, multiple people talking at the same time drowning each other out and making sure no one was understood, people running vacuums or appliances in the background, all added up to distractions. I had to learn to keep my finger near the mute button because happy hour also occurs at the same time that some of my neighbors like to take evening walks, sending Tucker into a frenzy of barking and howling.

Tucker on watch


While being able to keep in touch with everyone and at least talk to them together was nice, it still isn’t a substitute for the real thing. Living alone with just Tucker to keep me company, my daily travels in to work and weekly happy hour get-togethers were my primary means of social contact. Having to work from home for most of the last few months and resorting to social apps for contact has limited my exposure to human contact. While this has likely kept me from contracting COVID it also has felt very lonely. Visits to the grocery store and doctor appointments have been really the only exposure to other humans and it really isn’t cutting it.

There has been an upside to the lock down. I have been able to focus on a couple things. One has been developing recipes using beer to cook with, some you have seen on this blog and others I have saved for a cookbook I want to make. The second is that I was able to begin my journey to Cicerone Certification and obtain the level of Certified Cicerone Server. Now I am working on learning the various styles associated with different regions before I get the Certified Cicerone level. It helps to be a bit of beer geek anyway when doing these certifications, but I am also learning a lot more. And thirdly, I have been beefing up my home brewing equipment so I can start brewing on a more regular and consistent basis.


Now here we are in mid-October. In Florida, the Governor has been pushing to get businesses reopened and get the economy back up. Whether we are ready to do that or not is, of course, a tense point of discussion. As of right now, my isolation from work is set to end at the end of this month. As I write this I am getting ready to begin a well-deserved vacation to the Appalachians and re-charge my batteries. The afore mentioned Blackadder is having their Octoberfest celebration this evening and I am hoping to attend, mask and all. If I’m lucky I’ll see some friends there.


We’re not quite back to normal, but it’s a start. But then normal has never really been my thing anyway.

Papabear

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