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What’s Going to Happen to All the Kegs?

March 30, 2020

By Diana Hubbell, March 30, 2020

After nearly a decade of gypsy brewing, Evil Twin finally opened its first brick-and-mortar brewery last year in Queens. The centerpiece of the operation was a glass-encased, plant-filled taproom with outdoor picnic benches and a barrel-aging cellar where a number of local beer-lovers have already tied the knot. Founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø spent four years building this inherently social space and just over two weeks ago, the taproom had its busiest weekend since opening.

When public safety concerns abruptly forced all the taprooms in New York to shutter, the team at Evil Twin NYC found themselves facing the same challenge as countless other craft breweries around the nation in the wake of COVID-19: how do you avoid dumping kegs once the demand from restaurants, bars, and taprooms dries up? 

“We had to get rid of some of the kegs. We’ve been doing crowlers of the beers that were already tapped, since otherwise, it’s just going to be thrown out anyway,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “The challenge is to keep it moving and to keep the wheels turning so that we can pay our staff. We have a good team. We’re in it together and if we don’t fight it together, we’re not going to win.”

In order to keep at least some revenue streaming in, Evil Twin has been packing as much of the beer in kegs into crowlers as possible. One of the primary reasons Evil Twin and other taprooms are able to stay in business right now is that a number of states have eased restrictions on delivering alcohol. As a result, craft brewers are scrambling to ramp up canning production.

If we can’t put beers in cans, we can’t sell it. If one of these aspects of the business stops, we’re doomed.”

“There hasn’t been a canning shortage so far at least. The day IronHeart Canning stops working is the day we have to stop,” Jarnit-Bjergsø says. “If we can’t put beers in cans, we can’t sell it. If one of these aspects of the business stops, we’re doomed.”

Right now, breweries around the nation are recalibrating their business strategies in order to avoid dumping beer down the drain. The demand for crowlers has spiked so sharply that some areas are reporting shortages. Ball, one of the leading producers, is currently out of stock, but has scaled up its second quarter production of the vital 32 oz. containers to try and meet the soaring demand.

The Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland created a trial program called Kurbside Kegs, in which it off-loaded as much beer as possible into miniature kegs for at-home consumption. Middle Brow Brewing has been offering up its mobile canning line to fellow breweries in the Chicago area desperate to package beer that would otherwise have gone into kegs.

“It’s kind of insane right now because it feels like policies are shifting by the day and we have to keep reacting,” says Tristan Chan, the marketing manager at Ratio Beerworks in Denver, Colorado. “A lot of the breweries here have been pivoting, so beer to-go has been essential for us. We’ve had to lay off a substantial amount of our staff. We’re just hoping we can continue to survive until this all shakes out.” 

This is really a reminder of what the spirit of craft beer is all about: lending a hand to those who need you.”

Ratio Beerworks has managed to avoid dumping any kegs so far, thanks in part to the aid of two other companies. Codi Manufacturing Canning System in Colorado has been lending a hand and some much-needed equipment to local craft breweries. 

“They’ve offered up their services for free to breweries who are searching for opportunities to can their beer,” Chan says. “They came over a couple days ago and we were able to can our Mexican lager. That’s definitely given us an added lifeline.”

And when the lack of crowlers threatened to throw off the whole supply chain, a fellow brewery stepped into help. New Belgium has been actively working to support other craft breweries and small businesses since the early days of this crisis. When Ratio Beerworks was running low on crowlers, New Belgium didn’t hesitate to share.

“New Belgium has always been a champion for small breweries. They were kind enough to lend us crowler cans,” Chan says. “This is really a reminder of what the spirit of craft beer is all about: lending a hand to those who need you.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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