Texas Craft Breweries Battle For Survival In COVID-19 Pandemic

Celestial beerworks glass with beer
Photo courtesy of Celestial Beerworks

Craft Breweries Are Surviving But Need Your Support

Among the many parts of society that has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic is the craft beer industry.

Don’t panic. You can still get a cold brew, but breweries are feeling the effect of the Coronavirus. In fighting back, they are working on creative ways to continue to serve their thirsty clients.

“”Across the board, for us and all breweries, it’s been a decrease in keg sales and, of course, tap room draft sales,” said Shugg Cole, Director of Marketing for Martin House Brewing Company in Fort Worth. “”We’re lucky to can a lot of our beers, which gets sold in grocery stores and retailers, but those two areas mentioned earlier have been rough.””

Madeline Rawicki, Director of Events for Celestial Beerworks in Dallas, said the COVID-19 shutdowns have affected every facet of their business, from limiting staff shifts and income, switching their model to can sales, reducing distribution opportunities, and restricting tap room gatherings and events.

“We have used the ‘down-time’ to work on projects that would add value to the tap room experience and guarantee COVID-safety,” she said.

Tap Room Only Beers Drive Sales At Martin House

Cole said Martin House has begun canning more limited and tap room only beers to provide a unique opportunity for customers in their own homes.

“Since our fans aren’t able to hang out with us in the tap room anymore, we wanted to give them something special to take home and enjoy,” he said. “There is a new canned beer every week that is only available in the taproom to-go.”

An example is the recent release of Dunkaroos- 8% – Ale brewed with Cookies, Vanilla Cream, Lactose, and Sprinkles. Fans were enthusiastic about the new brew and it sold it out promptly.

Cole said several fans – he doesn’t use the word customers – have also offered ideas on social media. The same is true at Celestial, Rawicki said.

“We love and use customer feedback often. Our fans weigh in on which beers we should re-brew and how we should sell certain selections, as single cans versus four-packs, for example,” she said. “We also ask for votes for various virtual polls, and many of our customers have helped us choose which charities to support.

“We also keep in mind popular trends when we create merchandise and new beer variations. Social media interaction has become our primary platform for communication with our customers during the quarantine, so staying responsive and relevant is hugely helpful in knowing what the people want.”

Railport Brewing Is Rolling With The Punches

Richard Womack, founder and head brewer of Railport Brewing Company in Waxahachie, added, “We’re short handed and taking care of a lot of things due to COVID-19. In a nutshell we have been fortunate to have a very supportive customer base that has been there through all the changes we’ve had to make. We’re just rolling with the punches.”

And, of course, for Martin House, their ever popular Pickle Beer is still a bestseller.

Martin House pickle beer
Photo by Shannon Skloss
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented for breweries, Martin House’s Best Maid Pickle Beer remains extremely popular.

“Pickle Beer is consistent. It’s available in a can year-round – almost – so those sales have been steady in the off-premise market,” Cole said. “It is certainly lacking, though with regard to keg sales, since a lot of the bars are closed currently and the restaurants are operating at a limited capacity.”

Rawicki said when Celestial Beerworks was allowed to re-open in June, they changed their model to accommodate both safe tap room service as well as continuing online sales and walk-up orders, only to be told that they had to shut-down shortly after. She said this was the hardest hit.

“Luckily, the Celestial staff are all rock stars and continue to show flexibility and understanding through the quick and regular changes,” she said. “We are also so grateful for our customers who have continued to support us through everything. We now wait eagerly for news of lowered restrictions, as we’d love to bring our people, events and a feeling of community back into the tap room, knowing that we can and have done so safely and successfully.”

The drought hasn’t slowed down their creative thinking, however, Rawicki said.

Celestial Beerworks Says Creativity Is Key

“”We keep our customers coming back, first and foremost, by continuing to offer new, fresh and juicy beers weekly. Nothing drives excitement more than a delicious new release, especially if it’s a heavy-hitting triple IPA or collaboration with another brewery,” she said.
“At the start of the lockdown, we added an all-encompassing online ordering web page that allows for pre-orders and contactless sales. We have also moved some events online, like Cyberspace Trivia back in June, and our Adult Science Fair, as well as promoting at-home competitions like our label art contest and Mission Homebrew happening now.

black is beautiful celestial beerworks
Photo courtesy of Celestial Beerworks

“We also partner with food pop-ups and other local businesses to try to offer more bang for the buck, as an all-in-one pick up option. And we continue to donate percentages of our profits to organizations like The Innocence Project, Polaris Project, The Homes for Children Corp., and more.”

As they continue to fight the economic impact of COVID-19, Cole said there is only one approach to counter.

“Stay creative. Pivot when necessary. Keep putting smiles on people’s faces. Beer is supposed to be fun. We try to live that every day,” he said.

“I am of the optimistic mindset that consumers will explore more than ever before once restrictions and fear are lifted,” Rawicki said. “It may take a little while for everyone to feel comfortable heading back out into the world, but hopefully they can see that businesses are doing all we can to make safety a priority while offering a space to feel in community again.”

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Rick Mauch
Rick Mauch is a veteran of more than four decades in the media. He began writing in high school and immediately went into broadcasting for almost a decade after graduating, working his way to morning drive in Birmingham, Alabama. However, realizing how much he missed writing (though he did continue to do some during his time in top-40 radio), Rick returned to what he loved and has been doing it ever since. Rick's career has spanned a plethora of media outlets, including community journalism, sports, entertainment, politics and more. He's worked in print, broadcast and online media. He also spent several years doing public relations for a children's home in East Texas - still writing on the side, of course. When he's not writing, Rick loves to play golf and do Bigfoot research. He's an avid believer. He also made his first hole-in-one in June of 2020. Rick is married to Junell Mauch. They have five children and three granddaughters