Lockdown easing but brewers remain cautious

With lockdowns easing across the country, brewers are starting to reopen their venues, but many are remaining cautious.

There is a sense in the industry that the scattergun and disjointed approach of state governments will adversely affect an industry that has already taken a major blow.

The Night Time Industries Association launched a consultation process with state governments to consider more flexible easing of the rules.

Last week it told its members that governments in Victoria and New South Wales in particular could be doing better, saying it would be “death by 1,000 cuts” coming out of the COVID-19 situation, noting the week-by-week announcements.

“The sector needs a clear map that is inclusive irrespective of venue size and offering,” the NTIA said.

For brewers, who come in all shapes and sizes from small tasting rooms to massive 600-plus-capacity music venues, generalised reopening restrictions have been particularly difficult.

Voluntarily remaining closed

Some breweries will not be opening up despite the rule changes, including Hemingway’s Brewery in Far North Queensland, whose Port Douglas site in particular is heavily reliant on a tourism industry that will not be back in full swing until international travel bans are lifted.

Sydney’sYoung Henrys is another brewery venue which will not be opening just yet, explained founder Richard Adamson.

“We are very conscious of how close we are to our major customers being the bars and pubs in the local area and not wanting to compete with them,” he told Brews News.

“We have been able to maintain our off premise sales while they have had to close completely or pivot to a takeaway business.”

Young Henrys have been able to sell kegs and even supply vessels to those venues filling growlers, but have made the conscious decision to remain closed to support local pubs which are in close proximity, including The Duke, The Bank, The Botany View and a host of others.

It will be looking to reopen at some point in the coming weeks, but there is not set date as of yet.

“We have our team heading out to venues early next week to make sure our beers are tasting the best they can on tap so that first beer back lives up to expectations,” explained Adamson.

Other venues are cautiously optimistic. Kristian Savio, general manager at The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney said they were very excited that NSW venues would be able to open their doors and “get back to some sort of normality”.

From today (1st June) the state government will allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to have up to 50 customers, subject to a one person per four square metre rule.

“As with each stage of restrictions being revised by the NSW government we have to tread cautiously so that we don’t take a step backwards by taking two steps forward in the wrong direction,” explained Savio.

“It is also a great opportunity to reshape and instigate ideas that may have been in the back of our operations cupboard for a long time and anyone not taking advantage of opportunities to shape the business, it could be looked upon as a lost opportunity.”

Savio explained that they had been in touch with other venues who had opened at the 10-person maximum mark, and sharing that knowledge of what worked and what hasn’t, and said he would be happy to discuss what works for them following their reopening today.

However he explained that like Hemingway’s, they have concerns about their customer demographics, as the hotel is reliant on employees from local businesses as well as international visitors – of which Sydney in normal times can expect to see over 4 million of a year.

“Not having these forms of traffic and only our loyal regulars we are waiting to see what that looks like and how long this will last,” Savio said.

“But as always our tanks are full, beer is cold and you’ll have a warm welcome from our staff alongside the lit fire in winter.”

Reopening disparities

As states begin to reopen, there are glaring disparities in the extent to which governments are allowing venues to reopen.

In the Northern Territory, pubs were reopened on 15th May with minimal restrictions – though this led to a number of venues bring warned for breaching social distancing rules, with one Darwin venue receiving a fine of more than $5,000as a result.

However in other states restrictions are being eased more slowly, with some of the more restrictive reopening regimes in ACT, Queensland and Victoria. ACT has faced backlash over onerous restrictions which allow up to 20 patrons in an enclosed venue from Saturday 30th May, despite this being similar to the other two aforementioned states.

In Queensland, the state government’s roadmap has been eased to allow overnight stays throughout the state and the easing of intrastate travel. However the government is also constraining a return to normal with an ongoing interstate travel ban for non-Queensland residents, while venues are also facing additional rules.

According to local Brisbane brewpub Brendale Brewing Co, there are still significant restrictions in place in how they are allowed to serve customers, with only table service permitted, as well as various administrative requirements like recording the names and addresses of customers.

“We are still working on how and when we can safely, practically and viably reopen the taproom to customers for onsite consumption,” Brendale said in a Facebook post.

“Once we have a better idea of when this will be we will update you again, until then we will continue to be takeaway only. Thanks for all the support so far.”

Like the other states, in Victoria venues will be allowed 20 patrons from today which will be upped to 50 on 22nd June.

Tash Holgate, owner of regional Victoria’s Holgate Brewhouse, said that they were relieved that the COVID situation stabilised so quickly in the state, and the team were excited about reopening.

“Our main concern is that due to the size of our dining rooms and social distancing rules of 1 person per 4 square metres, we will only be able to serve 20 guests in the room even when restrictions ease to 50 to a room and 100 to room,” she said.

“This will seriously impact our business long term. Hopefully if COVID numbers remain low, social distancing requirements will ease.”

WA is launching phase three of its roadmap this weekend, making it one of the most advanced states in terms of reopening.

It will allow gatherings of up to 100 people at any one time, per single undivided space and up to 300 people in total per venue.

Despite this many venues are remaining cautious. In Perth, Otherside Brewing has not yet opened any of their venues including Freo.Social which can fit more than 550 patrons, and it said it would be waiting for restrictions to ease further before they do so.

Meanwhile Beerfarm in the Margaret River region said it would not be opening its doors until 1st July at this stage in the hopes that more restrictions will have been lifted. It said it would be relying on its drive-through and distribution network until then.

“I assume most bigger breweries will be in the same position unless they are operating by appointment only, but as we are a bigger venue and located on a farm, our capacity is much larger. So it only really makes sense for us to resume business as usual when the restrictions are lifted,” Beerfarm told Brews News.

“We don’t really have any concerns at this stage; we’re keen to have all of our casual staff back on the Beerfarm team, where we’ll be implementing the highest possible hygiene standards. We can’t wait to get back to business as usual.”

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