15 Jan The “Dry January” Effect on Indiana Craft Beer Drinkers and Breweries
If you care about the health and future of craft beer, especially craft beer in your neighborhood or town, you look for ways to help out – to increase your positive effect on beer. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you do think more about beer than just as a way to get ripped on a Saturday night.
Some people volunteer at their local brewery or step in to help with a canning run or perhaps just talk up their favorite brewery to family and friends. Every action that expands the reach of craft beer and gets people interested, even peripherally, is good for the future of the industry.
Another way to help is to make sure your craft beer dollar goes the furthest to help the breweries. I have nothing against our local liquor and beer stores, but buying your cans and bottles in the taproom is probably going to result in more dollars in the brewers’ pockets. Likewise, knowing who owns the breweries you buy from also matters. If you value the small independent brewer, why would you give money to AB InBev faux-craft brands like Goose Island or Wicked Weed?
Believe it or not, when you spend your money can also have an affect. Having talked to a few folks at various breweries and seeing the Facebook and Twitter posts recently, I am convinced that craft beer dollars spent in January mean more than those spent in July or even December. Let me lay out an argument with a bit of anecdotal evidence behind it.
The Brewers Association (BA) chief economist Bart Watson stated in a story for DRAFT Magazine that this portion of the winter is slow for craft beer in general, and is even worse for seasonal beer sales (people are winter warmer’d out). People just survived the raucous holidays and its celebrations with beer, and some people are “resoluting” for a few weeks. It turns out that “Dry January” is actually a thing, although I will only ever hear about, not experience it first hand.
USA Today just published an article on dry January on the 8th, 2018. The article said it was originally started by a British non-profit in 2013 and then picked up as a government health campaign in 2014. The benefits might be there – better sleep and metabolism, but no peer-reviewed articles are available on the advantages of a dry month. And many in Britain now refer to the second month of the year as “Wet February” as consumption seems to bounce back with a vengeance.
BA says that the first two months of the year are paltry as compared to summer and fall, so perhaps Wet February isn’t a thing here yet. But undoubtedly, January is slow. Dianna at St. Joseph’s Brewery & Public House said that without a doubt the first two weeks of January or are the slowest of the year. Rob at Burn ‘Em Brewing in Michigan City told me, “To answer plainly, yes, January and February are cold, and people are not as willing to sit on our patios.” Weather might play a role some years, but I am guessing that a warm spell wouldn’t make much of a difference. Greg Emig at Lafayette Brewing Company has had a slightly different experience. He said, “Colder temp.s tend to slow sales in the restaurant; however, we’re finding a solid demand for banquets which helps offset some of the drop.”
To combat the slow down, breweries can do many things. Most plan to have a dry patch, so resources and staffing are allocated accordingly. Some make a bit less beer in December, which is fine because brewers have families too, and this means that the beer won’t just sit around in January. Burn ‘Em is proactive, for this period of time in 2018 they have scheduled their Long Johns On event, including special bottle releases, “To give people extra incentive to get out in the cold.” In addition to the bottle Long Johns On variants, Burn ‘Em will have a chocolate plum stout aged in bourbon barrels collaboration beer with Function Brewing in Bloomington, and a gin barrel aged Batch 400 release in January and February.
But some breweries reduce their activity too, either deliberately or just as a matter of convenience. For example, many craft breweries will have their holiday parties in January. Black Acre, St. Joseph’s, and others have taken this tack. Having a party after the holidays is probably a good idea anyway, since as a service industry they are busier during that time of year, but many breweries close down for the entire day for their party rather than just for an evening.
Other breweries schedule routine maintenance or repairs for the month of January. Burn ‘Em was closed for two days during January. Rob said, “The fact that it is slow is why we are currently redoing our taproom cooler.” Lafayette Brewing Company also scheduled repairs for this period of time and People’s Brewing in Lafayette is closed every Monday of January this year. Greg at Lafayette told me that they schedule maintenance and repairs for predicted slow periods – when they have that option. You just never know when something is going to break down.
So perhaps there is something to this idea that a reduction in hours saves money at a time when a brewery has less revenue coming in. I understand that breweries might not want to state openly that they are limiting hours because of slow sales, but this might be real, and the repairs/maintenance meshes well in within this time frame. What’s more, I think we can help by going to the taproom perhaps once or twice more in January – a little bump multiplied by many people could make a difference.
In fact, Hoosier Brewhouse in Franklin made the most direct plea in early January about slow sales. Being the restaurant arm of the Hoosier Brewing Company, Brian and Stephanie put out a Facebook post stating that increased sales were the only way the restaurant was going to survive the slow winter months. The responses were heartfelt and numerous on social media, and one can only hope that they translate to increase money in the till. The food is great and the smell of the brewhouse is intoxicating, so I hope they will hang on. Walter and I will make a trip down in just a few days to do our part.
This leads me to the conclusion that dollars spent in January are like manna from heaven for craft breweries. Not every brewery is just squeaking by in the winter, but it is likely that all feel the pinch to some extent. And for those breweries living close to the edge, a jump in patronage in January and February when they are not expecting it might just make all the difference.
Nobody said being a craft beer geek was going to be easy, but you are taking on that responsibility. Just as you would go above and beyond to ensure the success of a child in school or a friend in a bucket list adventure, it’s important that you take some time to at least think about the issues that face craft beer. I don’t know that Walter and I will go out a bunch more times this January than we would have anyway, but knowing what I know now, it is important that we at least consider how we spend our dollars. At the very least, it’s another reason to welcome the coming of spring (just 45 days now).
Walter’s Words of Wisdom: We’re sure going to miss Michael at Metazoa – no one imitates a fashion show pet better than he.