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Beer on Demand? Brewers Adapt to Closed Taprooms and Covid.




HOST INTRO (Cecily Mauran): New York is a city where residents can have virtually anything delivered directly to their doorstep… except for beer. It is illegal for brewers to deliver their product to people’s homes, but in the last few weeks, those laws have been lifted for small and craft brewers to help them stay in business while the city is mostly shut down. Lauren Peace reports that many in the beer community are hoping those loosened regulations stick around even after things go back to normal.


((SOUND OF BUSY BREWERY AND LIVE MUSIC))


LAUREN PEACE (Byline): Bridge & Tunnel Brewery in Queens is typically packed on a Sat night.


Now... it sounds like this.


((SOUND OF BUBBLING))

PEACE: Rich Castagna is the founder and owner of Bridge & Tunnel, a brewery he started in his garage nearly a decade ago. He says since the stay-at-home order was put in place, his taproom has been empty, and all that’s left to fill the space are the sounds of the bubbling brew.


RICH CASTAGNA: We lost the wholesale and then we lost the retail.


PEACE: Castagna says typically a quarter of his sales come from distributing to bars. And the other 75 percent from sales in his tap room. With both those revenue streams now gone, he initially feared he’d have to close his business.


But then… the State Liquor Authority temporarily lifted a ban of home delivery.


CASTAGNA: The delivery function, for us, has saved us.


PEACE: He’s sold out of three different styles of beer and although there’s less demand, costs are lower because he doesn’t have to pay a distributor.


((SOUND OF BOTTLES AND CANS))


CASTAGNA: We’ve always had takeout for cans, but we’ve never done deliveries. There's always talk about, who's the designated driver, don't drink and drive. Guess what, you don't even have to leave your apartment or your house to get your beer, we'll bring it right to your doorstep.


PEACE: But it’s been an adjustment. Bridge & Tunnelwas mostly set up to sell beer in kegs to bars. Now, Castagna's had to reengineer his system to put more beer in cans..

He and his wife are personally delivering out of his small pick-up truck. Their most popular beer at the moment?


CASTAGNA: The name of the beer is F the virus. There's a couple of letters that are x out, but you know, you know, it's pretty clear what it what it is.


((SOUND OF OUTDOORS))


PEACE: Gage Seigel is now delivering his beer by bike! He started Non Sequitur Beer just 7 months ago.


GAGE SEIGEL: It’s mostly me, my dog and my girlfriend.


The day we talked, he’d biked over the Williamsburg bridge to deliver four cans of beer to a customer.


SEIGEL: It's easy for us to be agile, it's just just me and a little bit of beer most of the time. But this simply wasn't an option previously. So it's, it's honestly at the end of the day quite helpful.


PEACE: The ban on home delivery dates back to the 1930s.Before prohibition in New York, many breweries owned bars, and were able to sell their beer directly to customers. After prohibition, beer wasn’t allowed to go directly from the brewer to the customer. Breweries had to use middlemen—distributors and retailers.


The New York State Beer Wholesalers Association did not respond to an interview request, but the association says on its website that distributors help authorities regulate the sale of beer, help give customers choices, and help brewers promote their beers.


But the same law doesn’t apply to makers of wine and cider, who have been able to home deliver since the 1970s.


ANN REILLY: And that still makes no sense to me. It's incredibly frustrating for all of us. (2.52)

Ann Reilly is the President of the New York City Brewers Guild. (2.47)


REILLY: A number of us have been talking, you know, what's it going to be like afterwards? There is definitely concern that when things go back to quote unquote, new normal that the distributors are going to come to the state and say you gotta shut this down.


PEACE: Reilly says that many brewers rely on distributors, but also want the option to deliver straight to customers. They’re hoping that the loosened regulation will become permanent. But for now… the State Liquor Association says it’s just temporary.


Lauren Peace, Columbia Radio News.

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