Well 2020 is in the books and it has been one for the ages! The pandemic indelibly altered an already fluid landscape forcing breweries, wineries and distilleries to make wholesale (pun intended) adjustments to their fundamental operational practices. As closures mounted, business owners scrambled to stay alive amid constantly changing regulations and requirements…
No indoor dining; only 25% capacity indoor dining; 50% capacity indoor dining; outdoor dining only; no outdoor dining; bars that serve food can be open but not bars that don’t serve food, and of course no masks needed (March)… to wear the damn mask (April).
Sometimes it was a local jurisdictional directive- sometimes it was state mandated. Either way this was exhausting and costly.
Added to this mishmash was a growing aluminum shortage and Maryland alcohol manufacturers were in a bit of a pickle to put it mildly. Necessity is the mother of invention, and one thing our craft producers know how to do is innovate. They learned to bend like reeds in a tornado to witness another sunrise, but it wasn’t easy.
The adaptations manifested almost immediately in the form of delivery apps (like Biermi), transitions to primarily wholesale manufacturing, and of course the varied conversion of any available outdoor space for seating to accommodate patrons. For some parking areas worked, for others a spot of grass or sidewalk sufficed, but each space was unique, creative, and socially distanced. More importantly, it helped keep the business alive. Some relief arrived in the form of the Federal Cares Act, small business loans and grants from the state of Maryland, along with a tax forbearance. Local credit unions and banks stepped up to offer favorable grants, loans and forbearances as well to keep the doors open for so many. Most thought it would only be a few months, but it turned into several.
Some manufacturers were able to not only survive the challenge of 2020 and COVID, but thrive- turning adversity into opportunity. Silver Branch was open only a year when the pandemic hit, upending their first anniversary party and forcing them to invest more quickly in a larger wholesale production operation than anticipated, along with an abundant delivery service. Mully’s Brewery not only endured the pandemic, they thrived even though limited to outdoor only seating. A 1500 sf taproom expansion is now underway at the brewery, offering a hopeful reminder that once vaccines are rolled out people will be back in the taproom once again!
Checkerspot Brewing not only weathered the storm, they soared above it, much like a butterfly. Limited to outdoor seating only (although at the time of this writing Mayor Scott has removed that option) they improvised, and with a little help from the landlord, under the over became the go-to place for socially distanced outdoor seating, complete with big screen televisions to watch the Orioles and Ravens play while sipping on your favorite brew. With demand on the rise, the brewery also invested in a canning line for carryout, wholesale, and delivery. As of winter 2020/2021 they too are in the process of expanding the brewery to accommodate the shift from primarily taproom focused to wholesale operations.
Patuxent Brewing in Charles has also worked tirelessly to meet the demand for their signature brews. Patuxent opened in 2019 as Maryland’s first 100% minority owned brewery. Since that time they have seen such a demand for their beer, it has been a challenge to keep up! Through collaborations and tourism (prior to COVID) they were getting some pretty serious name recognition. COVID has not slowed them down and they have hit the ground running- taking home a few fairly significant awards. In October 2020 they were named the Regional Manufacturing Institutes (RMI) Champion of Manufacturing and the People’s Choice Award winner for Diversity and Inclusion. Accolades did not stop there as the ever tenacious Tranice Watts, along with co-owners Davie Feaster and Gene Lott were not only finalists in the Brewbound Pitch Slam this year, they won $25k as the 8 Trill Pils Minor Craft Beer Business Award winners! This is a must visit brewery folks!
In addition to the savvy business moves made by our Maryland breweries a few new ones were able to open in 2020, including TenEyck, Pherm, Forward, Hopkins and more. Check out the New Breweries page to see who is open.
More good news came in the form of the passed Craft Beverage Modernization Tax Reform Act that was passed by congress in December. This was the next step for fair excise taxes for small craft alcohol producers, and it also came with COVID relief package for these same manufacturers who have suffered under the weight of pandemic restrictions. President Trump signed the bill into law in the waning days of December, securing the future of these industries.
Now, all our producers need is Maryland to come on board to secure the future of Maryland’s craft alcohol manufacturers by making some of the state of emergency changes permanent. Since Governor Hogan declared a state of emergency, breweries, wineries and distilleries have seen a suspension of enforcement on carryout limits, home delivery, shipping and off-premise consumption. These have no doubt helped keep alcohol manufacturers, bars and restaurants in business. With the transition to wholesale local retailers are carrying MORE local craft beer than ever before, which for some package store owners came as a surprise. It was a lesson learned for many that even with a change to more favorable regulations for these manufacturers (or lack of enforcement more appropriately) everyone is still coming out ahead. So why move back to those arbitrary restrictions once COVID has passed?
What will happen after the state of emergency is lifted? There was talk of making these changes permanent through legislation in the upcoming session (2021). Governor Hogan introduced a COVID relief bill in January that does nothing to extend these limits. Was this just a moment in the sun in a year marred by darkness? Or will someone actually go to bat for the craft alcohol manufacturers? After all didn’t they step up when we needed them the most by converting their businesses to manufacture PPE and hand sanitizer to protect us?
If you recall back in summer I likened our breweries to a champion squirrel named Acorn. Suffering terrible injuries from a falling branch he should have perished. Instead I am happy to say he is healed and thriving- not just surviving! A lesson in luck? Perhaps, or just sheer determination winning out against the odds.
Beer for thought…