On November 29, consider buying beer—or anything—directly from your favorite local brewery.
Small, independent brewers have become the backbone of America’s beer industry. As of last year, the United States had well over 8,000 breweries and only one of them is Anheuser-Busch. The vast majority are brewpubs or taproom-focused breweries slinging craft suds out of their own facilities. So last year, the trade group the Brewers Association (BA) launched its first-ever Small Brewery Sunday to help promote these independent companies. The idea went like this: Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, Friday is Black, followed by Small Business Saturday… so come Sunday—November 29, this year—why not relax by supporting a small brewery?
It was already a fun way to spread love to local brewers in 2019… And then 2020 happened.
With a pandemic raging, 2020 will likely finish as one of the worst for the craft beer industry in at least a decade if not far longer. “This has been a devastating year for craft brewers, as they’ve faced shutdowns, decreased sales, layoffs, and an aluminum can shortage,” Bob Pease, the BA’s president and CEO, said announcing the event. “Our most recent member survey revealed only 78 percent of small breweries are confident that they’ll still be open at this time next year.”
As a result, this year’s event is more important than it was in 2019. “Clearly, this year has been a wild ride and honestly, many small, independent breweries are really nervous right now,” Tim Brady—co-founder of Whetstone Craft Beers in Brattleboro, Vermont—told me. “Small Brewery Sunday is a way to remind the craft beer lover that when you spend your dollars at a small, independent brewery, most of those dollars stay in the community. They help to keep your friends and neighbors working, they often support other small producers (grain, hops, produce) and most importantly they help ensure that the small breweries you love will be here when we finally reach the other side of this.”
Additionally, Brady pointed out that changes in the way brewers are doing business during the pandemic has also changed their finances. “Many breweries have pivoted to package sales (cans, bottles, crowlers, and growlers) in order to keep things moving and maintain some income,” he continued. “What a lot of consumers might not realize is that the margins on packaged beer are super slim. Even though you might see your neighborhood brewpub finally putting out cans, it takes a lot more can sales to stay in the black than it does draft sales. We’re also in the midst of a national can shortage, making it both more difficult and more expensive to get bulk cans.”
Julie Verratti—co-founder of Silver Springs, Maryland’s Denizens Brewing—also spoke to the benefits of buying draft beer from a brewery taproom. “If you buy our beer, you’re supporting us across the board, and we also want you to make sure you’re supporting local retailers as well, because we need them to survive this,” she explained. “But really, if you’re trying to support a specific brewery, buy directly from them—[including] in a growler format so they’re not using cans. Buying beer directly from the brewery is definitely a much more effective way to get revenue in the pockets of those breweries so they can survive.”
And in fact, as Pease mentioned, if beer lovers go to the brewery, they don’t even have to buy beer at all: “Six packs, gift cards, or merchandise all make great gifts and every little bit helps.”
But regardless of what you buy, Melissa Romano—co-owner of the Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, Virginia—provided a poignant reminder: “Despite mandated closures, local and national serving restrictions, supply chain shortages, and staffing challenges, your local brewery has persevered,” she told me via email. “They have continued to brew and package your favorite independent craft beers, and have done all they can to provide a safe and sanitary environment for sales and service.”
So, sure, supporting your local brewery will keep them open in the future, but drinkers shouldn’t overlook the fact that breweries need support to be open right now. Fresh beer is being made, and people need to drink it. “This year, on Small Brewery Sunday, show them how much you appreciate them,” Romano continued. “Show up, and ‘Seek the Seal’ AT THE SOURCE!”