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The Beer Community Shows Resilience During Pandemic
Small businesses are more than an important driver of our economy, they are part of the fabric of a neighborhood, of community. 2020 was a tough year for small businesses, and the neighborhood brewery was no exception. But we have seen stories of perseverance and resilience, of community and support, that helped keep many of these small businesses going during difficult times.
At Untappd, we are committed to being a partner to the breweries, bars, restaurants, and retail locations where craft beer drinkers come to learn, share, and purchase the world’s most enjoyed fermented beverage. Today, we share stories from some of our craft beer partners across the U.S. who found innovative ways to stay the course during the COVID pandemic.
In some cases, tap rooms and bars were able to serve a limited number of customers on premise, in others, they shifted to ecommerce and to-go service. To support our brewery partners and our more than 9 million registered Untappd users around the world using the app to check-in beers, Untappd introduced its Untappd at Home venue, allowing users to continue to enjoy the social aspect of sharing a beer with friends – virtually.
For these community brewers, finding a way to continue to serve their employees and the community required some creative approaches.
From a tiny bar nestled inside a boutique inn perched in Brattleboro, Vermont, Whetstone Brewery was born in 2006. “There weren’t a lot of craft beer options then, we went out of our way to find really interesting beers,” said founder Tim Brady.
When COVID19 shut things down, Tim wondered what they would do. “We were always draft,” he said. But Whetstone is “so invested in craft beer, so passionate about our community, and maintaining the jobs for our 85 employees, we thought, what can do? We have a level of responsibility. We have to do something. So, we tripled down, and bought a canning line. We weren't set up for it, we had to take out walls in brewery to make this work, then learn how to can beer - fast.”
During the winter, Whetstone created an outdoor space – a rooftop winter garden – to help people enjoy a beer safely and still get out of the house. “It’s been great, especially on the warmer than usual days,” said Tim.
Tim found Untappd to be a valuable resource while navigating COVID19. “We’re big fans,” said Tim.
What does Tim see for the future of Whetstone?
“In a way we have found some ways to be excited, this has reinvigorated our 10-year-old business, pushing us to start fresh – it’s brought more energy and variety. We're trying everything we can to be in a great place in 2021.”
When COVID19 shut down Hemisphere Brewing in Rockwall, Texas, founder Ruben Garcia said, "I have to find a way, this has to keep on going."
The community agreed. "It's a culture that we created, the neighborhood sees us, that's who rallied around us during the pandemic, you should have seen it, we had lines coming off the highway, because our neighbors, they didn't know if we were going to make it. Everybody was just coming here, because of Untappd, they were driving business to us. Untappd has been amazing, they’ve played a big role in our growth,” said Ruben.
Established in 2014, Hemisphere had a particular approach. “As musicians turned business owners, we found the process of creating a song that sounds good and feels good equal in both science and theory as the process of brewing. As a musician who writes songs, that was my format coming up with recipes, just like you have the bass, drums, guitars.”
The future looks bright to Ruben. They have launched a new membership, The Breakfast Club, featuring advance tastings of new releases and cool merch. “The craft beer industry, it's a brotherhood, we all take care of each other. What we hope for is that people see where we're going. We used to be the little brewer in East TX, we want people to see us as real contenders, not just to love our beer, to be blown away by our beers.”
Mason’s Brewing opened in Bangor, Maine, in 2015. “It exceeded my expectations,” said founder Chris Morley. “The craft beer market in Maine was pretty saturated, so in order to make a name for ourselves, we developed a kind of 4-pronged attack: really good liquids, really good food, a destination (on the waterfront) and great customer service. That's what people remember.”
Mason’s became a draw for the neighborhood. “Once we developed, we attracted more people to downtown and the waterfront, with that we've been supported very well by the community,” said Chris. “We do our part to give back, we support organizations that work with animal shelters and veterans’ projects.”
“During COVID19 we’ve been very thankful and thrilled with the support from the community.” To stay connected with the community, in late 2020, Mason’s introduced curbside and beer delivery, and launched a new podcast, “2 Empty Cans.”
For 2021? “I can feel so much momentum behind our brand, and our staff has been tremendous, 80% of our staff have been with me since day opened,” said Chris. “We’re looking forward to more growth in the U.S. and in Europe.”
Pelican Brewing Company was born at the beach in Pacific City in 1996. Over the years, Pelican grew expanded to other coastal towns in Oregon, becoming part of the local community while also serving the thousands of tourists who flock to the coast.
“Some interesting things transpired during pandemic,” said Jim Prinzing, CEO. “As parts of the country started closing down, it really gave us pause. We made the decision to close our brewpubs and hotels early because we knew the health and safety of our team, community and guests is the most important thing in the world. We always made health and safety a priority, but now we had to really think about it. So, we leaned into our core values to guide us as decisions were coming fast and furious.”
Those core values meant thinking about how to help Pelican’s employees. “We knew unemployment would kick in, but our mission was to figure out how to keep our team whole, not only to have a job to come back to put food on the table for their families and a roof over their heads.”
Pelican put the words of their values into action, providing family meals seven days a week, and putting together a small team to help Pelican employees understand how to file for unemployment, how to navigate rent and mortgage relief. “We put out a daily update email and text to all of the team members sharing everything we were working on to make sure they had jobs come back to,” said Jim. “That process was like a crucible to test our core values in a way they hadn't been tested before, everyone banded together.”
As Pelican began to reopen, the team sought to deliver an extraordinary coastal experience in a very “brand forward way, with a hospitality spirit.” They added take-out windows and put in plexiglass barriers but “tried to build it so it looked like it had always been there,” said Jim. “
The teams have done amazing jobs innovating, and coming up with new ideas, it's been inspiring.”
Jim looks forward to the future and continuing as a big fan of Untappd as it celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. “We love partnering with Untappd as part of our growth,” said Jim.