Coronavirus and craft: how local beer, spirit makers are helping (and hurting)

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Craft beer and spirit-makers in some of the communities most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are doing more than just producing hand sanitizer for their patrons.

But even as they convert their operations almost entirely to charity, and at a time when sales are so bad they could lose everything, they are discovering new snags in the supply chain that are making it even harder to help in the current crisis.

A 7.5 BBL brewing container at Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in NY is now filled with 300 gallons of chicken soup, which they are donating to a local charity supporting out-of-work food industry employees.

A 7.5 BBL brewing container at Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in NY is now filled with 300 gallons of chicken soup, which they are donating to a local charity supporting out-of-work food industry employees.
(Scott Vaccaro/Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.)

“We sell beer from Massachusetts down to Florida with a few holes in between,” said Scott Vaccaro, founder of Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., which has been around since 2005. As a result of the current crisis, he said, “we’ve seen wholesale orders either completely cut to zero, by the third, half, down to a fraction.”

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On Tuesday, Vaccaro was cooking his first 300-gallon batch of chicken soup (40 whole chickens at a time) in what is typically his experimental-brew house. Now, that equipment is being used to support a local charity that aims to donate one million gallons of soup to local food industry workers now out of a job.

“If [people] want their favorite restaurant, or bar, or brewery to be around when this subsides, they should do their best to support them during this horrible time. Everyone is hurting and everyone could use the extra love.”

— Scott Vaccaro, Capt. Lawrence Brewing Co.

“It’s the food service, it’s the restaurateurs that sell it for us, so we’ve got to take care of our people too,” he said, even though his own business “went from thriving to surviving pretty quick.” He hopes to crank out as much as 600 gallons of soup per day.

“To keep the lights on,” Vaccaro said Captain Lawrence is continuing curb-side, no-contact pickup of their beverages, family-style meals and make-your-own pizza kits.

Rob, an employee of Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Elmsford, New York, makes a curbside no-contact drink delivery while wearing rubber gloves as part of the brewery's coronavirus precautions, and efforts to stay afloat during the statewide shutdown.Capt. Lawrence is using brewing equipment to make hundreds of gallons of chicken soup for a local food industry worker charity. 

Rob, an employee of Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. in Elmsford, New York, makes a curbside no-contact drink delivery while wearing rubber gloves as part of the brewery’s coronavirus precautions, and efforts to stay afloat during the statewide shutdown.Capt. Lawrence is using brewing equipment to make hundreds of gallons of chicken soup for a local food industry worker charity. 

Vaccaro also makes his own spirits, and like many other craft producers in that industry, he is now pursuing hand sanitizer production after industry regulations were changed to allow them to do so in the wake of the coronavirus.

But he’s facing a new problem even in that effort, and one that may not have a quick fix in sight.

SANITIZER “EVERYWHERE,” NOT A BOTTLE TO BE FILLED

“I have been on the phone and on the Internet for the past two days feverishly trying to acquire plastic containers to put it in,” Vaccaro said, “and let me tell you it is an absolute nightmare.”

He managed to find some 3,000 10-ounce containers and a “bunch” of 64-ounce jugs, “but getting anything in the four- to eight-ounce range,” he said, “at this point seems like an almost impossibility.”

At Silk City Distillers in Clifton, N.J., the 4,000 four-ounce containers the company produced and distributed were scooped up in less than a week. The response was so high, the company had to post repeated warnings on its social media to remind people “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING.”

But there was one thing that chief distiller James Bednar did not expect.

“The outreach from first responders and healthcare providers has been absolutely mind-boggling,” Bednar said. “I don’t think you could comprehend the amount of outreach, hundreds of e-mails from local fire departments to home healthcare aides to hospitals – and big hospitals,” he added.

Bednar says his company is having the same issues finding more bottles after blowing through the first 4,000. Thankfully, after hearing about what Silk City had been doing with the first 4,000 bottles, his distributor refunded the payment and promised to send another batch for free.

For their next batch, Bednar says they will likely be “shifting focus a bit and kind of focusing on the first responder side,” in the hopes of providing what they can to those on the front lines.

However, for anyone in the service industry, Vaccaro says the front lines are now everywhere.

“If [people] want their favorite restaurant, or bar, or brewery to be around when this subsides, they should do their best to support them during this horrible time. Everyone is hurting and everyone could use the extra love,” he said.

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