Craft beer has gained popularity over the last few years. Many consumers love to indulge in finely crafted beer produced by microbreweries. Breweries, located in the Niagara region, were obtaining a larger share of the beer market. Locals could enjoy brewers such as Decew Falls Brewing Company, Lock street, and Bench. These companies are expanding their business to grocery and liquor stores across Ontario. However, amid a global pandemic, businesses have been negatively affected by economic restrictions, and the brewery business is no exception.
Scott Simmons, President of Ontario Craft Brewers has noticed the drastic change in business operations around the province. “Not only were they among the first to feel the economic impacts of COVID-19, but the craft beer industry has been among the hardest hit so far, with breweries estimating their sales dropping by over 50 per cent”. Simmons anticipates that once restaurants are allowed to reopen there will be a positive shift in business and customers can continue to enjoy all that breweries have to offer. Simmons encourages locals to support breweries in their region to help them survive through these difficult times.
Wolfgang Guembel, founder and president of Lock Street Brewers, has experienced a drastic change in the way he operates his business. Lock Street, located in St Catharines, sells a variety of craft beers and hosts events at their location. Keeping staff employed and paying rent are current issues the company is facing. “We have had a small amount of good luck in that we got a new LCBO stock keeping unit.” This has helped the company sell more products at a variety of locations. The company has begun shipping their product to the LCBO. Yet, ordering beer online can be tricky, said Guembel, “The value of a bottle of wine for its weight is greater than a can of beer for its weight.” Guembel and his staff are continuing to work around these problems. They remain hopeful that they will begin to continue their regular operations in the coming weeks.
Decew Falls Brewing Company primarily sells beer to restaurants. Most of their beer is produced in kegs for restaurants to distribute on tap. Restaurants can sell canned beers, but serving products on tap is currently prohibited. Brett Read, the owner of the brewery, has taken the necessary measures to protect his staff and continue production, “We are starting a new batch, in hopes of restaurants opening within the coming weeks.” The process can take up to three weeks, Read and his staff are optimistic that when the new batch is complete restaurants around the region will slowly start to allow seating customers.
General Manager of Bench Brewing, Anthony D’Aprile, has been working with his employees to bring beer to their customers safely. From contactless curbside delivery to online orders, Bench Brewing has created solutions to survive the economic strain. The company was forced to close its taproom and kitchen. The closure has been hard on both the business and its employees.
With talk of reopening the economy, D’Aprile and his staff are coming up with ways to return to business as usual safely. “We are going to rework our space to ensure proper physical distancing and people-flow. There will be fewer tables and seats in the building.” We are also figuring out how to maximize and optimize our outdoor space”. The brewing company looks forward to reopening their business to the public, but in the meantime, the safety of their customers and employees must come first.
Brewers across Ontario are working to continue production safely and plan for the reopening of the Canadian economy. With citizens supporting local business there is hope for businesses within the craft brewing industry.
“These have been unprecedented times and every brewer I speak to are so thankful for every customer who has ordered from them and really, the biggest thing breweries need right now is for even more folks to embrace the idea of supporting these local breweries who employ their neighbours, friends, and community members,” explained Simmons. “The next time people are looking to purchase beer online, or go to the LCBO or TBS, or grocery store – I hope they choose craft and help support these hundreds of Ontario small businesses and the thousands of jobs that depend on them.”
Anne-Marie was born in Niagara Falls and currently attends Carleton University where she studies Journalism. She began writing for the Niagara Independent in her last year of high school. She also writes for The Charlatan, a school newspaper for Carleton University.