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Report: Half the state's craft breweries could close in under 6 months due to COVID

The Urban Growler Brewing taproom on a Saturday night during the days of yore.

The Urban Growler Brewing taproom on a Saturday night during the days of yore. Star Tribune

Anyone who’s ever sipped a finely crafted ale on a sunny day probably finds some truth in the adage “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 

Beer and joy is one of life's few truly divine pairings… so scanning the findings from the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild's recent economic impact survey of members impacted by the COVID-19’s shutdown, we could have sworn we felt the heavens quake.

Things are not looking good for our great state's purveyors of hoppy holy water. To put it mildly.

In an April 26 follow-up to its March 25 report, the Guild asked 77 of its 150 members how long they anticipated they could sustain their businesses were the government-mandated closure to extend beyond the currently scheduled date of May 13.

Responses were straight-up dire, and painted a stark timeline for the future of craft beer in Minnesota and the industry's 4,500-plus employees—unless they can secure emergency assistance from the government. 

"Half our members tell us that with the substantial decrease of on-premise and distributed draft sales, they have less than six months to go before they’ll have to shut down entirely,” said Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Guild.

“Fifteen percent of respondents anticipate they will close forever within the next four weeks," she continued.

The report states the biggest hurdles to revenue are a lack of off-sale options, and a drop in orders from distributors and retailers thanks to bars and restaurants’ inability to serve draft beer. Faced with an inability to offload their beer at volumes and prices larger than the occasional crowler sold direct-to-consumer, brewers simply aren’t making enough money to pay back their debts and stay afloat.

Members reported a total estimated revenue loss of just over $9,250,000; at just shy of one-third of respondents answering this set of questions, the Guild believes actual lost revenue since mid-March at least triples the survey's reported amount, pushing total losses for Minnesota’s breweries to more than $26 million.

The findings made it plain that curbside pickup and delivery alone have not been enough to weather the pandemic for craft breweries and brewpubs. McGinty suggested craft brewers are navigating this pandemic with "one arm tied behind their backs."

“Without urgent help, we’re at risk of losing an entire craft industry built by so many hard-working Minnesotans,” she said. “We already have breweries reducing staff and dumping beer that can’t be sold. These businesses need more help from our state before it’s too late.”

Suggested relief measures culled from the report include a temporary allowance for all breweries to sell beer destined for at-home consumption in 12-64 ounce containers; waiving sales tax payments for hospitality businesses through October; the suspension of all regulatory fees through December 2020; establishing a 90-day forbearance and rent abatement program; expanding the Small Business Emergency Loan program through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development by $500 million; and finally, delaying May 15 property tax payments for businesses impacted by the pandemic.

And if these measures don't come through?

Welp, leave it to a pandemic to make us develop a taste for… Mich Ultra? (Oh Vengeful God Beer God, please no.)