Housebound Ottawans drinking local craft breweries dry

Thirsty Ottawans in lockdown are drinking beer faster than local breweries can produce it, causing some to run dry of their most popular varieties.

With many breweries offering free home delivery, some can't keep up with the sudden demand

Craft breweries in the Ottawa area are doing a mix of walk-ins, online orders for curbside or drive-thru pickup, and delivery, either for free or with a minimum dollar or can amount. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Thirsty Ottawans in lockdown are drinking beer faster than local breweries can produce it, causing some to run dry of their most popular varieties.

The demand for canned beer is keeping some breweries afloat during the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're definitely moving beer faster now," said Laura Behzadi, co-founder of Bicycle Craft Brewery. "Our beers will sell out in a day or two, sometimes three."

Like many craft beer breweries and brew pubs across the province, Bicycle has shifted solely to taking orders online since public health officials in Ontario commanded restaurants to close in mid-March.

The forced closure meant that two main revenue sources for craft breweries — in-person purchases at taprooms and bottle shops, and sales of kegs to restaurants — virtually disappeared overnight. 

And while the Beer Store and the LCBO remain open, beer drinkers appear to be seeking out their local brewers, many of whom are offering home delivery.

"We've found that our customers are really enjoying the home delivery," said Behzadi. "The curbside pickup has worked out really well too for people just wanting to get out a little bit and swing by the brewery."

Demand has been so high that Bicycle's normal selection of six to eight beers has been limited to three recently, with the rest having sold out.

Laura Behzadi, co-owner of Bicycle Craft Brewery, said demand for delivery services has exceeded her expectations. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Josh McJannett, co-founder of Dominion City Brewing in Gloucester said sales of canned beer have largely replaced the revenue his brewery lost from taproom and restaurant sales.

"Any of the beer that was destined for keg has now been put into cans," McJannett said. 

McJannett said Dominion invested in an online store a few years ago mainly to serve customers in other parts of the province, like Toronto.

"We had everything we needed to hit the ground running to be able to offer people beer delivered to their door," said McJannett. "[But] I don't think we were fully prepared for how enthusiastic people would be."

Dominion City Brewing co-owner Josh McJannett said the brewery is selling beer as fast as it cans it. (David Richard/CBC )

Now, many Ottawa-area customers are using the site to order beer — so much so that Dominion ran out for 48 hours last week.

"We're basically selling beer as we can it," said McJannett.

Still short of normal

While the thirst for pickup and delivery is keeping some breweries afloat, for others, it's not enough to replace pre-pandemic revenue.

"It's certainly been a godsend in the form of having some level of revenue to keep the wheels turning, but a far cry from where it was before," said Dave Longbottom, owner of the Flora Hall brew pub.

Longbottom said Flora's revenue has fallen by more than 60 percent. Most of its income during normal times comes from food and beverage sales at its brew pub on Flora Street in Centretown.

He said he scrambled to set up an online shop and delivery service and has hired a new supplier of cans as he transitions his product for delivery and pickup.

He's waiting for the federal government's wage subsidy to come through, so he can keep paying his employees until public health officials say it's safe to welcome people back inside.

"There's a real appetite to get back out and when the public health folks tell everybody we can do it, we'll be full again," said Longbottom.