Editors' Notebook: Beer Love in the Time of Coronavirus

In a time of fear and uncertainty, here are ideas for some much-needed distractions.

Joe Stange Mar 22, 2020 - 10 min read

Editors' Notebook: Beer Love in the Time of Coronavirus Primary Image

How about we not call this a survival guide?

Normally that might be cute, but times are bleak—for some more than others, as many are quarantined, furloughed, laid off, or sick. During a week that seemed to last a month, the pandemic and the social distancing meant to slow it down have already dealt a blow to the economy and, not least, the brewing industry.

Instead, let’s call this a guide to welcome diversions.

As our friend and colleague Evan Rail says, “People need to read things that are not just about the crisis. People need distractions. And they need to be reminded about what makes life worth living.”

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For example: beer.

A lot of us are spending a lot more time at home than we’re used to, and that has implications. Our advice, unsolicited: Disconnect every now and then from the news and social media. Unplug. Relax. More advice: Practice moderation. That’s always good advice, but especially now—this could be a long haul.

With those things in mind, here are some ways that beer lovers out there are passing the time.

Support Your Local Breweries.

We’ve grown used to a landscape with more than 8,000 American breweries, dotted everywhere from dense urban neighborhoods to rural areas, and nearly limitless variety. That landscape is changing before our eyes.

Over the past week, thousands of bars, restaurants, and taprooms shut their doors to prevent gatherings. Almost overnight, breweries pivoted toward selling packaged to-go, often using online sales systems they had never tried before. Many were selling gift cards—anything to keep a bit of cash coming into the business. Many had to lay off bar and brewhouse workers.

Those measures might get many of them through the next couple of weeks. Next month is less certain.

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What can you do? Easy. Buy beer. Not just for now, but for later too. Hoard beer with the same energy as the jerks who are hoarding toilet paper. Leave a sixer on your neighbor’s back porch. Alternatively, buy some of those gift cards to use later, or mail a few to friends.

Homebrewers with kegerators have another intriguing option: Buy a full keg. Right now, many of your local breweries are sitting on a bunch of them—including slim sixtels, which hold roughly five gallons (19 liters)—with no place else to go. In states that allow it, they will probably sell you one happily (and likely at a very good price). Most homebrew shops sell Sanke-style taps for commercial kegs—as well as ball-lock conversion kits, so you wouldn’t need to snip any hoses. In fact, if you have a cool place to keep it, even a picnic tap will do.

Order Beer to Your Doorstep.

Seriously, they will just deliver that stuff to your house these days—though the options vary widely by state, given the uneven legal terrain.

Delivery apps such as Drizly, Tavour, and Saucey make it pretty straightforward to get great beer sent to your house, especially if you live in a large city. Other options include Doordash, which in many places can bring you beer alongside restaurant meals.

In some states and cities, it’s possible for breweries or liquor stores to deliver beer directly to your home. In Illinois, for example, liquor control officials are temporarily allowing breweries to do just that during the crisis. Your best bet, if you can’t or prefer not to go pick up beer yourself, is to reach out to your local breweries and ask what’s possible.

Reconnect with Your Favorite Hobby.

“Silver lining” is going to become a really annoying cliché—especially to those having the toughest time—but let’s be honest with ourselves: How many of us have wished for more time to be at home and make beer? Think of all those experiments, projects, or unusual recipes you’ve been meaning to try. Is this the time you finally rig up a kegerator? Or brew your first lager? Is it time to get into barrel-aging?

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The conventional wisdom is that homebrewing tends to pick up during an economic downturn. In theory, that ought to be doubly true when so many people are stuck at home. Bart Watson, economist for the Brewers Association, has noted that web searches for “how to homebrew” appear to be trending upward over the past week.

It’s too early to see if there is a real trend here—and in any case, it may be fleeting. But anecdotally, at least, we can say that some homebrew shops are seeing at least a small uptick in business.

“I think we are seeing a little bit of a boost for sure,” says Todd Frye, owner of the Home Brewery in Ozark, Missouri. “Lots of folks are ‘stocking up’ for their quarantine time. Even a few returning brewers that had been absent from the hobby for some time.”

In Fort Collins, Colorado, the Hops & Berries homebrew shop has seen some of that too. “Yeah we are hanging in there as long as the governor will let us,” says Tyler Caron, the shop’s manager. “I'll say there certainly seem to be more people free to come into the store at all hours on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Hard to say how much of this is a temporary bump to be followed by a low, and how much of it won't matter when the governor puts the kibosh on non-essentials. … Lots of question marks floating around.”

Help a Friend Get Started.

Likewise, you may know somebody at home who needs more to do—somebody who likes beer and needs a creative outlet. If so, guess what? This is your time to shine.

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Remember: Homebrewing need not be a complicated or expensive hobby. Despite all the terrific gadgets out there, you don’t need much more than a pot, a bucket, and some ingredients to make good beer. You can brew great stuff with extracts in your kitchen. All homebrew shops sell kits to get started, and even those lower-priced, simpler kits like Mr. Beer can be hot-rodded to brew more creatively.

Here at Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® we offer a lot of free resources aimed at helping people get started in the hobby. Besides the wealth of material in our archives (try the Search box above), we offer free video courses on brewing with extract and the basics of brewing. We also offer a free introductory guide to homebrewing, which you can download here.

Cook, with Beer.

So we’re all facing more time at home, and eating in restaurants or bars is straight-up ruled out (even if they’re still open where you live, please respect social distancing and don’t go). It all adds up to more time in the kitchen.

With some luck, you’re still able to get the ingredients you need. Supermarkets are having a hard time keeping their shelves stocked for now, but some combination of those, local specialty shops, and online ordering should get you what you need.

If you’re looking for a starting point, we have loads of recipes here on the site—all free. While you’re at it, you can play with pairings to see if you can find the kind of perfect gestalt that makes it all seem worthwhile.

Host a Virtual Happy Hour

It is not as much fun as being in the pub, but it beats drinking alone.

You can use online tools such as Zoom to arrange video conference calls (with beer). My old stammtisch group from Berlin managed to do this for the first time last week. Our attendance was higher than usual, given that were able to participate from three different countries.

None of this is any replacement for the participation in public life, the face-to-face social discourse with friends and strangers that can happen in any pub or taproom—the absence of which is suddenly all too palpable. But it’s still fun, and a welcome reminder that we’re still there for each other—for the long haul, if need be.

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