New Brewers Association Guidelines for To-Go Beer Sales Show Indiana is Doing it Right

New Brewers Association Guidelines for To-Go Beer Sales Show Indiana is Doing it Right

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

It’s difficult but crucial right now for breweries to balance safety with trying to sell enough beer to stay open in the long run. Since all situations are different, nobody has a definitive answer that works for everyone. However, Brewers Association (BA) published on Tuesday a list of “To-Go Practices at the Brewery” and suggestions for breweries that are doing sales via curbside, drive thru, or carryout. From the experiences that Walter and I have had in the last three weeks and the posts being made by the individual breweries, we can see that the guidelines exactly represent what Indiana breweries are already doing.

In general, the guidelines (available here) break down the beer buying experience to a) maintaining distance and b) maintaining cleanliness in interactions between 1) customers and employees, 2) customers and customers, and 3) employees and employees. Efforts to reduce the handling of objects and increasing the sanitization routines should be SOP for this period of time.

All of these points have been addressed in every brewery we have visited since the shutdown began. We have been to breweries that have had you order ahead and then bring the beer out to your car when you arrive. We have visited places that do carryout, with distancing protocols at every step. We have also made trips where we drop off growlers/howlers at one place, and picked them up filled at the other end of the bar. The one thing we haven’t done is delivery; we figure it’s better for us to travel on our dime and keep the brewery’s overhead as low as possible. We haven’t visited Switchyard Brewing in Bloomington during the lockdown, but monitoring of their social media shows that they are being diligent in their efforts at both delivery and curbside service. They even had an Easter Bunny greeting patrons (from a safe distance) for their walk-up carryout on the holiday weekend.

Upland Brewing has been doing curbside service and delivery for a full month now. image credit: Upland Brewing

Streamlining the procedures for sales and growler fills allows the brewery to work with minimal staff in order to reduce the chance of people being exposed. We have also seen, when more than one person is working, that employees segregate themselves to specific tasks and areas. This reduces employee/employee interactions so as to reduce chances for cross-contamination and face to-face interaction.

BA and its member breweries that contributed these guidelines readily admit that there is no “one size fits all” mechanism for how a brewery should operate during this time, it all depends on their supplies, labor, overhead, and most importantly, their cash and beer on hand. Some breweries can do crowler fills, and have no problem reducing the handling of items between employee and customer. Others have packaged beer, and once the four-packs or six-packs are hit with some isopropyl alcohol, the customer can carry them out on their own.

As for growlers/howlers/personal pints, BA’s guidelines both apply to and permit filling of both new and used containers. A sixty second plunge in a quaternary solution at 200 ppm (something that is FDA approved to act on coronavirus), accompanied by a hand wash or glove change for the server is adequate for sanitization. In many ways, the handling of used growlers is safer than the handling of cash from customers, since it’s only the beer containers and not the cash that are going through a sanitization process. It’s especially important now to have good practices for filling growlers, since so many people are doing beer to-go. As drinkers, we have responsibilities too – don’t take a cruddy, dirty growler to a brewery, and Walter and I wipe them down with disinfectant before we hand them over to the brewery.

Only a percentage of breweries package beer, and perhaps even fewer do crowlers. Those facts, along with the situation where crowler cans, package cans, and growlers are on massive back-order make used growlers/howlers perhaps the only source of income for many small breweries. There aren’t enough new growlers on the face of the Earth right now to accommodate breweries merely trying to stay afloat during this time. For example, the newly opened Fish Moon Brewing in Rushville had growlers back ordered for three weeks, so their only, ONLY, means of taking in revenue was to do fills of growlers that patrons brought in. That reminds me, Walter and I need to get down there to get some Fish Moon IPA.

Eric from Bare Hands Brewery has delivered a ton of beer to homes in NW and Central Indiana in the past few weeks. image credit: Bare Hands Brewery

Payment is another area where reducing interaction, whether face to face or through touching, needs to be reduced. Some breweries have gone online ordering and payment, while others have stopped taking cash altogether. That’s a hard thing for me to fathom; if a customer comes in with only cash, is a brewery going to turn them away? Few breweries have the reserves to stick up their nose at cash.

In all, the BA’s guidelines add up to a nice balance between keeping a business open while at the same time assuring the least exposure for both customers and employees. We don’t want to injure the economy so badly that massive unemployment and the accompanying degradation of healthcare, diet, and well being of those who lost jobs end up bringing more damage and death than the virus itself. The goal here is for owners to protect their customers, their employees, and the business of theirs that supports those employees.

Every brewery in Indiana has the interests of the public at large as the focus of their protocol for navigating this unprecedented shutdown. Every brewery also has their own unique set of issues through which they have to navigate. Therefore, each brewery is going to have a unique response to the shutdown. What’s nice to see is that despite the myriad responses, they all seem to be working within the guidelines set forth by BA. Please feel confident that you can visit Indiana breweries for to-go sales in safety. You do your part and they do theirs, and together we support the industry that we love.


banner image credit: Brewers Association

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