Austin Breweries Can Deliver Beer To Your Car, But They Can't Deliver It To Your House
The stay-at-home order that’s kept Austinites spending most of their time at home for the last couple weeks has also increased demand on the “essential” businesses left to supply them with goods. That includes grocery stores and restaurants, but also breweries.
In Texas, the former two are allowed to deliver alcohol right to your front door. Breweries are not.
Last year, the state Legislature passed a law allowing for the delivery of alcohol to consumers, so long as food was also being delivered. The law explicitly prevented brewpubs from delivering.
But the Legislature also passed a law allowing breweries to sell beers to-go. Now that the stay-at-home order has closed taprooms in the city, some brewers are relying on these to-go sales more than ever.
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Amy Cartwright sort of expected the taproom at Independence Brewing would be forced to close soon after South by Southwest was canceled. Cartwright, who owns the brewery, says she had been following coronavirus news in China and Italy and knew the festival's cancellation was only the beginning.
“Even though it was heartbreaking for the Austin community to have South By canceled, I think it was the right call,” she said. “You know, it doesn’t diminish the economic impact and the hardship it created. But when they called South By, I think I knew that more things were coming.”
With bars and restaurants shutdown, Independence has seen demand for their kegs plummet. Cartwright says these establishments account for about half of sales in the Austin area.
“That Monday when businesses closed was probably the most brutal day in 16 years I’ve ever witnessed in Austin,” she said. “People we’ve been doing business with for 15 years having to shut their door. It was just very hard. It’s been very hard on everyone. I think there’s just many businesses in Austin that have been affected and it’s a very uncertain time, not just for people that were laid off, but for the owners themselves. Are they going to be able to re-open?”
"There's a great deal of concern about what is the right thing to do for their employees and their community.”
To adjust to this new reality, Independence has focused on producing only packaged beer to sell to-go or in stores. Customers can place an order online and pull up to the brewery. Once there, they call Independence and an employee delivers their beer. Cartwright says they call it "rampside delivery," since employees glide down the ramp on skateboards from the industrial building the brewery is stashed into.
Charles Vallhonrat, executive director at the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, says brewers across the state are also adapting to the new reality. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought serious worries about the future for small breweries.
“There’s a great deal of concern about what is the right thing to do for their employees and their community,” he said. “They’re looking at where they can sustain their production. … More than anything, more than, ‘Am I going to make it through this on my own’ – it’s, ‘Am I going to be able to protect my employees and make it through this?’”
The brewers guild has started a petition to ask Gov. Greg Abbott to allow breweries to deliver beer straight to consumers.
“The ability to deliver beer would keep their product out in the market, keep some cash flow and potentially give some employees, maybe taproom employees that don’t have a taproom to work in anymore, give them a working opportunity,” Vallhonrat said.
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But that may not be feasible for many breweries in Austin, even those used to delivering to large customers like grocery stores. Michael Graham, co-founder of Austin Beerworks, says despite having the means to deliver beer, it's not something the business would consider.
“For us specifically, I think we’re too big to effectively do that,” he said. “The majority of our business is built around large delivery to single sources. It’d be really hard to deliver a six-pack or a case to one customer at a time.”
Graham says the brewery would have to deliver 3,000 to 4,000 six-packs to individual customers to meet a typical day’s sales. He says that could work for smaller breweries in town, though.
Cartwright says if this were the early years of her brewery, when it did deliver to large customers, delivering to individuals might be feasible. But, she says she’s worried about breweries desperate to deliver that might not consider all that entails.
“If [the petition] were to go through, on our end, I don’t think we would [deliver] because I don’t have that insurance set up currently,” she said. “And with some of the other decisions I’ve made along the way to not put our staff in contact with the public, I don’t think we would want to do that.”
Taprooms in Austin and Texas will be closed for at least the rest of the month – and possibly longer. For now, beer to-go will be the only way Austinites can visit their favorite breweries.
Cartwright and Graham said they’ve gotten more sales from beer to-go than they had initially expected. But neither of them is sure how long those sales will last. They’re both thankful the community has stepped up to support local breweries during these tough times, and say they’re looking forward to hosting Austinintes inside their brewery sometime soon.
“A huge thank you to the community, to the people who are making an effort,” Graham said. “Not just to support Austin Beerworks, but to support all their favorite local bars and restaurants that are trying to do whatever they can to survive.”
“We will get through this,” Cartwright said. “Austin is an amazing community. I have a lot of hope still. We’re gonna do what we gotta do. At some point, it’ll be nice to ‘Cheers!’ in real life and not, like, through a webcam.”
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