EDC Blog: Candemic? Now it’s personal | Opinion

Given the global pandemic dating back to late February 2020, local brewers and beverages

the co-packers continue to show perseverance and resilience. Hey, these are small businesses and that’s what small businesses do. To suggest otherwise is contrary to the esprit de corps found in the good old United States of A. inventors, craftsmen and craftsmen.

A first test of resilience took place at the start of the pandemic. Smaller breweries were forced to close, in line with the ‘essential’ versus ‘non-essential’ trade edict. Even in Wisconsin they weren’t deemed essential and it’s in a state known for Friday fish fries, beer battered onion rings and Bernie Brewer, the Milwaukee Brewers mascot. Closed breweries meant closed taprooms. Consumers were left to hypothetically chant: “Beer, beer everywhere and not a drop to drink (in the taverns)”.

A few establishments complied with strict regulations and found ways to reopen, but reported massive sales losses.

But wait. The brewers persevere. They package their products in bottles, cans, growlers, and a closely related cousin, crawlers. Safety, hygiene and packaging go hand in hand, even in the event of a pandemic. Shutdown breweries in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley and elsewhere have gotten creative. They have organized drive-thru beer campaigns in their parking lots as an alternative to closed refreshments. The breweries offered buffet-style product offerings from multiple operators, all in one place. Call ahead for easy pickup–a New Richmond lager, Somerset IPA, Roberts Screamin’ L. . . you get the picture.

A small brewery at Exit 4 had just moved into its new facilities in March 2020 when the invisible enemy burst into town. The production dial was activated; the bar was polished; the tavern was installed; the pizza menu was ready. And then BOOM. A window from the kitchen to the patio turned out to be fortuitous. It has become the meeting point for loyal customers to get both six-packs and Jalapeno Popper pizzas. The small brewery with a pitchfork as its logo has survived. Some would say thrived.

Taproom crowds began to return in mid-2021. Beer production was accelerated. What could go wrong? Spikes in COVID cases here and there have raised concerns. And then the real threat appeared. Suddenly, aluminum cans became scarce. A brewer-turned-economics professor might put it this way: “If we can’t get cans, we can’t put beer in them, we can’t sell it, so it’s really a danger for many breweries if we’re unable to distribute our beer to consumers.”

Brewers call this latest threat a candemic. And it doesn’t just affect breweries. At stake are canned sodas, soft drinks, sparkling waters, cold pressed coffees, functional water products and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. All are straining the aluminum supply chain. A major can maker reported that the US market alone was 10 billion cans short. And it’s growing.

Locally, a beverage co-packer predicts that 7 or 8 million canned products will pass through its production facility each year. Without cans, the Candemic risks turning into Candemonium! And if that’s not the demand for cans, then corrugated cardboard is the next calamity.

To brewers and co-packers. A tough crew they are. Little did they know the beverage business is a combined platter of mastery of a craft, juggling, logistics and Econ 101. All deserve in-person visits to tasting rooms where pints of glass are left after some happy toasts. Keep it up resilient brewers and co-packers!

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