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  • Hamilton Riley

It's Been Awhile


Festbier by Benchtop Brewing (Norfolk, VA)

It has been several months since the last post, but sparse outings and the occasional Instagram pictures has pretty much summed up the rest of summer. Hopes of us getting out of 2020 without it going completely '2020' this year are slim to none, and 'slim' is on a bender right now. But we have made the most of it online, so here are just a few thoughts about things going on.


Things Could Be Worse, But Things Are Tracking To Be


Not to sound too optimistic, but the craft beer lovers who love Virginia beer have been very fortunate. The Commonwealth eased up on some restrictions on off premises sales and shipping is a thing now. Combined with a not-horrible-but-not-great case count has allowed some capacity at breweries to get them moving along. I have not heard of any breweries in Virginia that have closed their doors yet, and not anywhere close to what my friends have been describing as multiple closures in their states. But even if everything went back to normal today, this will have a tail. Fiscal year ends can go either way for breweries at this point, and will come down to whether or not they have to spend 2021 at a reduced capacity or if they can show they can produce pre-Covid numbers (or at least a break even). We have had one heartbreaking causality as my favorite bottle shop, Hair of the DoG, shut down a week ago, which always made sure to keep VA beers well stocked. Breweries poised for the long play in this will be fine, but I would look for at least a handful to shut down in 2021.


Online Festivals Are A Cool Thing That Almost Everyone Gets. . .


Tying into the shipping part of the new Virginia regulations has been most of the festivals have been able to be online. Instead of heading out to a location and trying 30-100 different types of beers, people have been able to get an offering of 12-24 beers shipped or location pickup combined with online access to content on a particular day curating the beer among other things. Hats off to Oozlefinch in Hampton, VA for spearheading a large number of these festivals with local and intra-state brews. Some offer access you just don't get at a general attendance festival, and sometimes its hard to convince people to go to seminars when you are overwhelmed by sheer number of options or a limited time to try beers. This puts it at your pace, for good or bad, and can really give insight into your favorite breweries or brewers.


. . . Almost Everyone


Sadly taking a huge swing and a miss on the online festival has to be the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. The VCBF 2020 has gone completely virtual this year (as most have) but has done it in a very odd way. Instead of having it on 1 day or at least a weekend, it spans 6 sessions from October 12-27, and almost exclusively on Mondays and Tuesdays. Each day features 1-4 breweries and is $10 each or $25 for all 6. There is no beer included with it, and it is on you to go and find it. There is shipping available for some, but not all, of the beer and breweries at each session are not group breweries together by any geographic region, which makes procuring the beer they are talking about even more difficult. If you are just looking to hear brewers chat for a little while from a few breweries and you get the beer locally, it's great. But a main purpose of the VCBF is to try the beers from other breweries that you can't find locally or maybe never even heard of. What would have been a whole lot better would have been to have 2 Saturdays with 12 beer packs that could either be shipped or at least picked up at regional location around the Commonwealth. Have big day with talks and music and that would have been great. Other states are doing that. This just seems half thought out.


Pushing the Envelope


Lastly, this is not a Virginia exclusive, but one of the things that has gone relatively unchecked has been the use of Intellectual Property (IP) by breweries. It is not a new thing and certainly not one that is completely ignored, but I have found that more and more people are just putting caution to the wind when it comes to not only label design, but beer names. I don't want to put people on blast here, and in these times where people need to stand out and push product, I get it, but at some point in time, someone's going to get caught for some serious cash. Even adhering to a Cease & Desist could become contested if there is a history of IP 'theft'. Worse is when someone is smart enough to push the theory that breweries know they can get away with it because by the time the C&D comes in, the beer is gone and they don't make it again. That precedent is not yet out there, but if a decision ever came down like that, a lot of people are in trouble.


That's all I have today. Hopefully it's not anther 3 months before another post like this, but til then, be kind to one another and cheers!

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