The Polar Vortex Has Literally Frozen Beer Deliveries in the Midwest

January 30, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, January 30, 2019

With the polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest, governors in Michigan and Wisconsin have declared a state of emergency and six states have registered even lower temperatures than the South Pole. Some predictions with windchill have gone as low as -50 F in Chicago and -60 F in Minneapolis—the coldest it’s been in a generation. It’s so frigid that stepping outside in certain areas may result in frostbite within a matter of five minutes.

Schools are closed. Offices are closed. And, yes, even beer delivery businesses have said there’s no way in hell they’re venturing into a frozen apocalyptic wasteland. The record-shattering temperatures have stopped brewery deliveries in places like Chippewa Falls and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"I can't remember anything like this ever happening," says Mike Madigan, president of Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association. "The vast majority of regularly scheduled beer deliveries are not occurring, because the majority of these are family-owned businesses and they’re concerned about their employees."

When I drove in this morning, it was 33 below. I haven’t left my office all day—I’m scared to.”

Rob Fisher, general manager of General Beer Northwest Distribution Center in Chippewa Falls, braved the blistering cold this morning, but worries about asking some of his staff to do the same.

“When I drove in this morning, it was 33 below. I haven’t left my office all day—I’m scared to,” Fisher says. “The first thing we have to think about is the safety of our drivers.”

Fisher says his drivers typically make their rounds around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., when the thermometers are brutally low. He hopes to get as much product out by the weekend, but if the current situation continues tomorrow, he may have to hold off. In addition to the safety concerns, he has to consider the impact the arctic conditions will have on the beer.

“If you put a pint glass in your freezer at home, it’ll be solid in about 90 minutes—and that’s at 32 degrees,” Fisher says. “Some bottles could explode at these temperatures and once it freezes, the quality is affected. We can’t afford that.”

Photo by the very brave Mike Duesenberg

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