‘Everything Has Changed’: Breweries Move To Packaging

Lamplighter Brewing. Photo by Sasha Pedro.

Remnant Brewing is trying to activate a new distribution model. Since the Somerville brewery’s taproom can no longer be open to the public—an effect of the novel coronavirus outbreak—management is moving to sell more packaged beer, which customers can pick up at the Bow Market location. Much of Remnant’s sales now come from their production of crowlers, 32-ounce cans that are hand filled from the tap on site, says general manager Brittany Lajoie.

“Our brewery is a little unique in that our model has really been 100 percent taproom consumption and engagement. We haven’t really delved into too much packaged beer, too much distribution. …For us, it’s been a 90 percent reduction in income, what we usually see as taproom sales,” says Lajoie. “So that is pretty bleak.”

Crowler sales have been up, with an average of 100 sold every day, in contrast to the pre-coronavirus rate of 100 sold per week. Yet losing taproom customers has resulted in an enormous overall decrease in income, says Lajoie, with traffic being “way down from normal.” 

When people do visit the brewery to pick up their purchases, the business has been practicing sanitary habits. The door is left open, and there is one table set up where people can pick up their orders from. Remnant even participated in a popup on March 26, during which Bow Market stores sold their goods outdoors in the Union Square space, while shoppers observed the rules of social distancing.

Other breweries in Somerville and Cambridge have affirmed that the coronavirus has challenged them to operate in new directions. While they have been able to stay open through the state wide nonessential business ban, they have had to look for other ways to engage with their customers. 

Winter Hill Brewing in Somerville created what they have lightheartedly called the “WHBC bodega,” a take-out option that sells cans and crowlers of beer, coffee beans, and take-and-bake food from Scott Brothers Meats, says general manager Bert Holdredge.  They are only open for three days a week and have a menu that includes specials and sides such as baked ziti, barbecued beans, and macaroni salad.

Local Somerville brewery Aeronaut Brewing Company has also undergone a transition, says communications manager Lee Hatfield. The space, which formally brewed two batches of beer per day, had to close down its taproom and rely solely on selling cans and bottles for pickup. Customers can place orders online and come to the site in person, where an outdoor picnic table creates a barrier between guests and employees. 

The crew at Aeronaut also understands that a brewery is a place where people can traditionally gather together, says Hatfield, and that customers are missing the face-to-face interactions they would normally have. Instead, they have launched online events, like the virtual trivia program they held through Zoom.  

Cambridge favorite Lamplighter Brewing Company has also made adjustments, says director of marketing Emma Arnold. The brewery now operates a retail window, where passerbys can purchase packaged beers and Pepita coffee. Customers can also request curbside delivery, an option that allows them to stay in their cars. A popular beer is the India Pale Ale, as well as the Saison, a choice for the spring, says Arnold.

But the shift in business models has been a difficult transition for most breweries, she says.

“Everything has changed so much,” says Arnold. “The business that we’re operating this week is completely different from the business we were operating three weeks ago. Every person that operates a bar or taproom will tell you that having to shut that down was definitely a huge hit.  It has been challenging, but luckily we have the packaged beer that we are able to continue to sell, and sales for that have definitely increased.”

Lajoie affirms that as a response to the spread of the coronavirus, breweries have undergone a transformation in the way that they distribute beer. Going forward, they will have to plan their next steps day by day.

“Everyone’s trying to make beer that can be sold in cans, because we can’t sell beer here anymore,” says Lajoie. “For us, that is really gutting. Our idea was always to be a neighborhood place, where people would come hang out and drink the amazing beer that we make here. We’re trying to change to a more traditional distribution type model, where we’re brewing beer somewhere and putting it in cans somehow and giving it out to the people.”

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