At Dreaming Dog Brewery, David Brown places a bottle under a spout, and a whoosh of beer and carbon dioxide, which keeps it fizzy, enters. He then takes the 12 ounce bottle, puts a cap on and clamps it into place.
Brown is not only the brewery’s owner and founder, he’s also head labeler of the bottles and in charge of cardboard packaging.
“It’s a lot of work to be able to bottle 10 cases of beer a day on our little two-headed bottling system,” he said. “But, we’re managing” — the “we” being he, his daughter and grandson.
Dreaming Dog in Elk Grove serves only beer and has gone from a sit-down taproom to a business that takes orders online and leaves the product outside its entrance for pick-up. Brown hopes to begin home deliveries soon, which would allow him to give some hours to the employee he just laid off.
Still, he’s grateful to be open at all after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order from March 15, when the state directed all “brew pubs” and bars to close in the state.
That caused confusion among breweries. Owners called the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the California Craft Brewers Association for clarity. Some breweries shut their doors.
Turns out, many didn’t have to close. Tom McCormick with the state craft brewers association says the state’s order was not only unclear, but also inaccurate.
“The governor … mistakenly used the term ‘brew pub’ when he was actually referring to brewery taprooms, their tasting rooms,” McCormick said.
The craft brewers and the state beverage control agreed: Public gathering spaces at beer businesses need to close, but brewery operations can continue, and food can still be prepared and delivered or left for customer pick-up.
Dreaming Dog, which initially shut down after the governor’s order, is a relatively new operation, having opened its doors in 2017. It has beers on tap, but it does not serve food.
New Glory Brewing has a brew pub that serves beer and food in Granite Bay, and the brewery itself was founded in 2012. They stayed open after Newsom’s order.
Jared Long is director of brewing and says he didn’t see why only restaurants should be allowed to provide pick-up and delivery. Now that the restaurants and breweries are under the same rules, they operate the same way.
“Our taproom is essentially just a dispensation point for orders that have been placed on line. We’re not conducting any transactions, nor are we allowing customers to enter our taproom. We’ve also started shipping beer direct to consumers,” Long said.
Alcoholic Beverage Control oversees 93,000 businesses, including breweries, which employ about a million people. After California shut down bars and advised restaurants to not allow dine-in customers, it issued a notice of relief from the governor’s order and a list of guidelines for the different types of businesses that make beer.
One change: Restaurants and brewpubs can now serve beer — or a mixed drink if they are licensed to serve hard alcohol — in a sealed container to-go with a meal.
“In order for them to try and get through this very difficult period and help reduce some of the economic stress, we’re allowing these locations to sell alcohol to the public, either have it delivered to the home, or maybe it’s taken curbside. But it has to be in a manufacturer’s, pre-sealed container,” said ABC spokesman John Carr.
That means no sippy cups and no lids with a hole for a straw. Driving with an open container is still against the law.
The sound of a rooster and chickens greet visitors at GoatHouse Brewing in Lincoln. The owners say to-go orders for beer are the only way it can stay open.
“We were never set up for distribution. We don’t can. We don’t bottle. Everything is draft,” co-owner Michael Johnson said.
He says the business model before the crisis was to entice people out to GoatHouse’s farm.
“We grow all our own hops on site. We also have an orchard we pull from and honey bees,” Johnson said.
For now, beer will come from 32 and 64 ounce growlers that are available for delivery or pick-up. GoatHouse is also keeping its deals with local food trucks to provide meals that are also only to-go.
“It’s definitely been interesting,” Johnson said of the transition, “but so far it’s been well-received from the public.”
He says he laid off all 12 of his employees, but, like David Brown at Dreaming Dog, he hopes deliveries will mean wages for some of them.
Employees are being hit hard, but so are brewers, according to the McCormick.
“Beer sales overall are way down. A lot of people don’t think that, because they go to the grocery store and see people with very full baskets and buying lots of beer,” he said. “But the on-premise has completely dropped off to zero and grocery store sales are not even close to making up for that.”
He says interest-free small business loans will be valuable to some breweries, but Brown with Dreaming Dog says not for them: “We’re pretty well leveraged already.”
McCormick wants to see large overhead costs — such as rent, insurance and taxes — canceled or deferred for breweries. CCBA says brewers really need help with the costs of insurance, taxes, and rent.
He also says businesses like Dreaming Dog are doing well if they’re seeing only a 20 percent decrease in their income: Some taproom-only breweries in California have witnessed their incomes drop since the stay-home order by as much as 90 percent.
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