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Brewing Creativity in Uncertain Times

Brewing Industry and COVID-19

June 9, 2020

“Uncertain times” is an understatement for what our small business owners have been going through the past few months. The saying is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” but a global pandemic is a BIG lemon to deal with. Iowa breweries have had to make things work by being innovative. What does curbside pickup, something previously unavailable, look like? What happens to all of the product out at restaurants and bars? What if I don’t have a crowler machine yet? 

Celebrating Cooperation Within the Brewing Industry

It is hard as an association manager, and more often than not a friend of these business owners, to see them struggle to redefine who they are. Breweries got creative. I hate that this situation happened, but I love the camaraderie and innovation born from it. I saw breweries helping others who didn’t have mass package situations (Brightside Aleworks in Altoona), lots of donated sales to bartender funds and other organizations (Lua Brewing in Sherman Hill), as well as online events like happy hours and brewer chats (Peace Tree Brewing in the Historic East Village).

Breweries changed models and figured out to-go orders, some even delivery. All kept the spirit that I have grown to love in our industry. We, as the guild, put on a virtual beer festival to bring breweries and consumers together to help out the industry. We invited breweries to do virtual tours, show up on Facebook Live for 15 minutes and take consumers through your brewhouse, chat about what you’re doing and answer questions as they come up. On Saturday, June 20, in lieu of having an in-person Iowa Craft Brew Festival, we are hosting the Iowa Cyber Brew Festival. We are encouraging consumers to pick up Iowa beer and join us online that day from 1 – 5 p.m. to enjoy more tours from breweries, as well as some tours and chats from others in the industry like hop farmers (Buck Creek Distributing), malt producers (Black and Gold Malting), and environment/sustainability partners (Iowa Green Brewery Certification and Izaak Walton League of America). 

The Future of Iowa Brewing Brewing Companies in DSM

What does the brewery landscape look like going forward? With a rather bleak reality check from the Brewers Association that as many as a third to a half of breweries could have closed due to the pandemic and mitigation measures, I think that there is a testament to resilience here in our state. As the summer kicks into gear, we see a bit of life as normal returning. The biking community is thriving, even with the postponement of RAGBRAI. People are opting for outdoor activities like camping, where a crowler of beer or a six-pack of cans fit right in. We are still seeing new breweries on the scene working on opening, as well as new projects from those who have been around. I, for one, know I’ve spent a lot more time with my dog, and we are seeing breweries get serious about making sure patios are friendly for not just humans, but their canine friends as well (Kinship Brewing in Waukee).

What can you do as a consumer to continue to support our small breweries in Greater Des Moines (DSM) and all of Iowa? Get to-go beers, join them for releases (most are advertising all releases as events on social media), attend virtual events (usually free!), visit taprooms/patios if you are comfortable sitting for a beer and a socially distanced chat with staff, get food takeout if they have it, buy merchandise or gift cards to use in the future and, finally, grab some Iowa beers and join us June 20 to celebrate the Iowa brewing community! Cheers!

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Kelsey Seay

Kelsey Seay is the associate director of the Iowa Brewers Guild, the trade organization for the brewers of Iowa, and a sales associate with Best Case Wines. In her spare time, she is a photographer, crocheter, reader and enjoys time with her husband, cat, dog and their three chickens.