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Why isn’t my favourite beer on tap?

By Shaunagh O’Connell
2020 has been a crazy year – not just for breweries but for all of us. You’re out of lockdown, you want to visit your favourite brewery in Bright, and relax on the Hop Terrace with a pint of your favourite beer – but it’s not on tap! The horror! Breweries have had nothing to do but brew beer for six months, right? Wrong. Read on to find out what’s been happening behind the bars of your favourite breweries this year…

PRE-COVID

Prior to COVID Lockdown #1 in late March, we were brewing at about 80% of our full capacity here at Bright Brewery. With summer bushfires having wiped out our entire tourist season and visitors only just having started returning to town, we had not yet returned to full capacity.

As usual, the majority of this beer was packaged into kegs for sale through our Brewery Door and mostly Melbourne pubs, bars, and restaurants. Only a small percentage was packaged into bottles and cans.

COVID STRIKES

When COVID struck in late March, our Brewery Door was forced to close with only a couple of days’ notice – along with every single pub, bar, brewery, and restaurant around Australia. In the blink of an eye, 90% of our stockists were gone. You could not buy draft beer anywhere in Australia. Bottleshops remained open around Australia to the joy of beer-lovers (and brewers!) Australia-wide.

With our Brewery Door, which generates the majority of Bright Brewery’s revenue, closed, Bright Brewery’s management decided to prioritise keeping as many people as possible in work – approximately 30 local people, across all areas of the business, including long-term casuals, were kept employed through this period. While JobKeeper helped, and bottleshops were still buying, we needed to try and make some revenue in uncharted waters – online sales and free home delivery of beer throughout Melbourne and regional Victoria.

It was all hands on deck. Our Sales Manager began delivering beer to people’s homes five days a week; we created an Online Sales team within 48 hours; Bar Staff were painting the Brewery Door in preparation for reopening and delivering food and beer throughout Bright every afternoon and evening; our Venue Manager spent her days gardening; our Founder, Scott Brandon, paved a huge outdoor area.

Sales through bottleshops and online boomed and we quickly returned to brewing (and selling) the same volume as we had pre-COVID (80% of capacity).

But with pubs and bars still closed and with no re-opening date in sight, venues began returning kegs to us as they couldn’t sell them. And we (along with most other breweries) became concerned about the quality of the beer in those kegs should they keep sitting there. At Bright, we pride ourselves on fresh, high-quality beer that is free of preservatives.

But with packaged beer sales at an all-time high, we managed to save about two thirds of these kegs by pushing the beer into cans. Sadly, though, about a third of the kegs could not be saved and have to be disposed of (read: poured down the drain) at huge expense.

REGIONAL VIC REOPENS

In June, things began to look slightly more positive with venues, including our own, in regional Victoria reopened. But with visitation severely limited, and 80% of our normal wholesale income coming from Melbourne, this did not mean profit for the business, in fact, quite the opposite.

With no keg venues open in Melbourne, packaged beer remained the most financially viable way forward for us and most other brewers so kegs were in limited supply.

COVID STRIKES AGAIN

In August, after a couple of months of freedom, COVID’s second wave hit Victoria and we shut down again. Hospitality across Victoria was devastated. Breweries again stopped packaging kegs as there was no end date in sight for venues to reopen.

But we’d been here before – we knew what we had to do, and Online Sales and Wholesale Sales kicked up another notch.

During this time, our Sales Team struck a deal to get Bright Brewery beer distributed in every state in Australia (except the Northern Territory) and even into Singapore. This was a major coup for us, especially in the midst of a lockdown.

LOCKDOWN LIFTS

Within the past 2 months, we’ve seen Melbourne reopen and state borders begin to lift. Demand for fresh beer shot up overnight and once Melbourne’s hospitality industry reopened, we sold out of kegs immediately.

While we opened our venue to just 40 people initially, capacity has shot up to 400, the whole state is travelling and our Brewery Door is already catering for crowds we don’t normally see until the summer peak.

But this all happened very quickly, and fresh beer is in very high demand across the country.

Remember, we were already brewing at 80% of our capacity during lockdown, thanks to packaged beer sales only. And since the start of November when Melbourne reopened, our core range beer sales have increased by another 230%.

Our brewers are working overtime to try and brew and package as much beer as possible. But no matter how hard the brewers work or how many of them are working, we only have so much tank space, and yeast only works at one speed – and we are beholden to its timeframe.

Our Alpine Lager takes 4-8 weeks to brew and keg. M.I.A, our quickest brew, takes 3 weeks.

Breweries cross Australia are facing the same issues. Even mainstream brewers had to pour millions of dollars worth of draft beer down the drain and start again.

So if, when you visit us next time, your favourite brew is not on tap, this may give you a better of idea about what’s going on behind the scenes – and to reassure you that we are doing literally everything in our power to get more beer into kegs and into your glass as quickly as we can.

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