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  • Hamilton Riley

Doing What We Can't

I am 'essential enough'. When the Governor started to thank people for their continued sacrifice during these times, I was in the ". . .and everyone else that keeps Virginia moving forward" category. There are real people out there who are putting their health & safety on the line while I go straight to my office, work, and go straight home. I have no problem being the smallest footnote in that category, if even mentioned at all, as the number of people who can't work grows each day to shrink the impact of this pandemic.

But in a harder position has been the people who are trying to keep businesses going that have to work under a fraction of their capacity or output. And this is aimed right at restaurants and breweries. While our elected officials laud their accomplishments to adapt, the suffering is real and there are places that you and I love that will not be around once this is said and done. It might not be in the next month or two, but it will be a slow roll out over the next year.

The latest coping mechanisms has been Virginia lax of current ABC laws to allow for delivery and to-go of mixed drinks, and shipping of beer and cider in Virginia. My call a few weeks ago was that if you shipped it, I'll order some. Geographically, I'm in a tough spot. There are only 2 breweries that will deliver beer to me, and both have special days to get to my area. So most of my provisions have either been a Friday grab and go, which requires about an hour round trip after work or the nice UPS guy who knows my address by heart. And while this is not an ideal situation, it also has divided up the 'small, craft brewer' community even more.

There are inherent logistical issues to shipping beer, boiled down to (1) a way to collect orders and (2) a way to ship orders. Some places had to build sites from scratch which takes time. As one who has built several websites, this is an undertaking even if you have as much time as possible and no time table. These breweries have neither. Some have augmented their own merch stores to carry beer. One place had their 6-packs next to hoodies and stickers. But even then you have to get the beer out of the door, and while most places have a minimum order so they can fill their bottle shop shipment boxes for direct-to-customer orders, some are going old school and plastic peanut-ing up my office.

All and all I've had 3 pickups, 2 deliveries, and 5 shipments. That is just 10 of the few hundred breweries in Virginia and a vast amount of the those do not have a shipping set up. While most offer to-go and 'local' deliveries, the cost is still just staggering to try to manage and ship any quantity of beer with limited resources. A lot are banking on the saving of cost and a quick flip back to normal as soon as pseudo-quarantines are lifted, but again, what will the face of normal look like afterwards?

What we are accustomed to at the beginning of 2020 will not be the same by the end of it. With that being said, will there be some fundamental changes to Virginia ABC laws to ease thing close to par? A flip of the switch revert will leave a lot of breweries not able to ease back down to their baseline and create a fault line in their revenue stream. This can apply to restaurants as well with mixed drinks. That income from can't just be cut off day 1 as well. While it is far from ideal, it can be a real opportunity to get rid of some of the antiquated moon-shining, Prohibition laws that have been on the books for over a century. Redefining the Virginia 3-tier system can really open doors for the craft brewer in The Commonwealth.

But we are not at that point of discussion yet. We are in the 'waiting for the next shipment' phase and I just got a knock on the door. Continue to be safe out there.

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