In times like these, many of us could use a beer. But, that’s not so easy after Oregon Governor Kate Grown imposed an unprecedented 4-week ban of on-premise restaurant and bar operations that goes into effect today. So outside of limited retail operations, finding your favorite beer is going to be much harder and breweries and affiliated businesses are going to be pushed to the brink of closure. Oregon joins Washington in a similar ban that is leaving the craft beer industry desperate for ways to keep them afloat.
Little Beast Brewing, Vanguard Brewing and Leikam Brewing are among the first Oregon breweries to offer beer delivery services direct-to-consumer. Gigantic Brewing, Coin Toss Brewing, Stormbreaker Brewing, and Lombard House have delivery programs in-the-works and soon to launch. Even more are on the way, but they will need our consumer support to make them viable.
Small breweries without major supermarket shelf placements will be hit the hardest, we may not see many of them return to business after the 4-week quarantine now in place. While many hospitality businesses have been promoting the sale of gift cards for use post-quarantine, and to-go sales for take out, an increasing number of establishments are turning to an underused option to sell direct to consumer via home beer delivery.
Online retail giant Amazon launched beer delivery in 2018 via their Prime Now app, but that service has a very limited selection and is already basically out-of-commission with the demand the Coronavirus epidemic has put on the small fleet of delivery drivers – good luck getting an order in.
Craft beer fans are better off supporting local craft breweries directly than trying to purchase from the big box grocery stores; more selection, better service and more importantly supporting small businesses. For many breweries, being a delivery/shipping company has never been part of the plan, but it’s now more important than ever to seek out new revenue streams and ways for these small community businesses to stay afloat. There is a very real possibility that many of them won’t be here after the mandatory 4-week closure of Oregon bars and restaurants.
Oregon’s kosher nano brewery Leikam Brewing was the first in Portland to launch home delivery on Monday, further south, Vanguard Brewing in Wilsonville did the same. For most, it wasn’t immediately clear that they could do home delivery for legal and insurance reasons.
Lin Anderson of Vanguard Brewing got the idea for home beer delivery last week after she saw the writing on the wall. “I searched online and found a super helpful guide,” says Anderson. As it turns out, OLCC licensees with permits for Off-Premises Sales, Brewery-Public House, Brewery, Grower, Sales Privilege, and Winery licenses have the privilege to deliver to Oregon residents homes or offices. If a business does not already have one of those licenses, they can apply for a “Direct Shipper Privilege” for a $50 fee.
“We are self-distributed and own a delivery van and so will be doing what we expect to be the vast majority of deliveries ourselves,” says Anderson. Vanguard Brewing launched beer delivery service on Monday via their website. Orders can be made for single cans and full size kegs with limitations on same-day versus next day delivery in the Camas, Oregon City, Lake Oswego, Tigard-area.
For the past few years, the model of brewery success has shifted from major distributors and regional packaged distribution to a more controlled model of direct-to-consumer sales via brewery taprooms. With the number of breweries competing for shelf space at grocery stores and ever rotating tap handles at bars and restaurants, selling and operating their own taprooms is more sustainable. That is, until COVID-19 struck and selling your own beer became nearly impossible. The 4-week moratorium on taproom business insures only breweries with dependable wholesale placements at grocery and liquor stores will have any dependable sales revenue. For atleast the next month, larger breweries with major grocery store connections will be rewarded while the smaller guys lose out.
Portland’s Stormbreaker Brewing is a great example of a successful small brewery that has focused on on-premise sales with a limited self-distribution wholesale business. With two different locations and bottles and cans sold off-site, Stormbreaker has dozens of employees and two restaurants to keep afloat without the help of a wholesaler.
“When I think of all of the employees that we won’t be able to pay, it just crushes us all. We are trying to do anything we can to get our people some work and support the community,” said Stormbreaker co-owner Dan Malech. He is one of the many brewery owners now looking to new business models after this crushing series of events. Stormbreaker plans to have a delivery service up and running in the next few days. “We hope to provide some sort of relief to customers, while also giving our employees a few hours of work to help soften the blow. Anything we can do to return some sense of normalcy to our community, whether it’s a simple sip of a beer or biting into a burger, albeit in your own home, we want to do it. Let us bring the pub to you. Our goal is to do enough to keep the lights on and provide as much support as we can.”
“Our goal is to have the shopping site live by Thursday with the first orders going out on Friday,” Gigantic Brewing’s Ben Love told The New School. The OLCC allows license holders to offer next day deliveries to homes and offices in most of the Portland area. Same day deliveries are limited to orders received before 4pm, a stipulation that makes it difficult for businesses that are not setup for this service to accommodate. “As of right now we don’t intend to do same day deliveries. By taking orders one day and doing deliveries the next it allows us to plan an efficient delivery route,” says Love.
Little Beast Brewing is launching perhaps the most robust beer delivery service so far, less than 24 hours after officially shutting their SE Portland tasting room ahead of the Governor’s decree. Little Beast will be making same-day delivery for orders placed before 2pm, anything later will be delivered the next business day. And though it sounds like a joke, the first 50 orders of Little Beast beer over $75 will come with a free roll of toilet paper. Even the delivery drivers will be equipped with hand sanitizer to be used before and after every customer interaction.
Home beer delivery won’t save our local breweries and support businesses alone, so the Oregon Brewers Guild and Brewers Association are lobbying congress for support measures. Sonia Marie Leikam is one of the Oregon Brewers Guild board members, as well as being a co-owner of Leikam Brewing.
“Moving forward, we’re lobbying for unemployment assistance and rent and mortgage abatement/moratoriums for staff, and access to capital and commercial rent and debt abatement for breweries,” says Leikam of her work with the guild. In the meantime Leikam will be delivering direct, and working with the OLCC to allow all breweries to do same-day direct delivery. It looks like bottleshops will soon be joining them; Lombard House in St. John’s plans to launch a call in service today and others like Imperial Bottle Shop may do the same.
“My head is spinning trying to do the right things by everyone,” says Stormbreaker’s Dan Malech. “We never thought that something like this would be our biggest challenge in this business. Maybe Robert Frost said it best, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”
Double Mountain Brewery, Wayfinder Beer, Coin Toss Brewing and Great Notion Brewing are among the other breweries that have expressed interest in going direct delivery. Stay tuned for more info as it comes out. And support your local beer establishment!
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.