Now in cans
Workers at Hop Dogma prepare cans of their microbrew for sale. Photo courtesy Hop Dogma Brewing Co.

This is a difficult time for the craft beer industry as a whole. While some larger breweries may have seen an uptick in sales from grocery and liquor stores in recent weeks, many microbreweries and brewpubs that rely on in-house draft sales have had to pivot quickly or be left behind.

The Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., which functions as a popular restaurant as well as a microbrewer, has effectively been hit from both sides. The brewery is owned by Lenny Mendonca, an investor in Coastside News Group Inc., which owns the Half Moon Bay Review.

At the brewery, staff furloughs and swift implementation of delivery services were a necessity.

“It’s been pretty horrible,” said Craig Carroll, CEO of the brewing company. “I couldn’t think of a worse scenario for your industry.”

Like many competitors, the Princeton brewery has moved on to make beer specifically for cans, growlers and crowlers — essentially a large can — to go. The brewery has been making dramatically less beer recently. Carroll estimated the company brewed three batches in the last six weeks when under normal circumstances it would brew three or four per week. Given the size of the operation, there was no need to dump product down the drain, an issue some breweries across the nation are facing.

Carroll was grateful for the support the brewery has received.

“I’d like people to know how thankful we are, and our community to know they’ve saved us and rallied around us,” he said. “We’re going to get through this because of them.”

For Hop Dogma Brewing Co., the downturn came at a rough time as it was in the midst of expanding and renovating its taproom. Dan Littlefield, a co-owner of the company, said that aside from the beer, most customers are drawn to breweries for the ambiance and social atmosphere. Independent brewers across the nation have had to adapt on the fly.

“To say that this has been devastating is an understatement,” Littlefield said.

The first thing the brewery did was transition to pickup only. But Hop Dogma also upgraded its website dramatically early on when the shelter-in-place orders went into effect. The robust website allowed customers to select their order entirely online in a simple, easy-to-use manner. The site offers everything from the latest batch to old merchandise.

“I’m so happy we did that,” Littlefield said. “We kinda saw this coming and we were talking about what it would take to survive a prolonged shutdown.”

The brewery also offered home delivery, at first only to Coastside residents from Montara to Half Moon Bay. Gradually it expanded to Pacifica and then sent weekly deliveries to homes in the southern Bay Area with an employee who lived in the area. Hop Dogma now sells nearly all of its beer in cans — a decision that would shock some purists. Littlefield explained that while there is no light damage and less oxygen pickup while canning, there are some drawbacks to the new normal.

“Canning is not ideal in a lot of ways,” Littlefield said. “There are a lot of waste products when you can, and we lose a lot of product in the process. It’s also really expensive. We have to have a mobile canning unit come in, and they’re great, but it’s an additional expense. But it’s the easiest way to get our beer out to people right now.”

While Hop Dogma’s wholesale revenue has “ground to a halt,” the business from the taproom has allowed Littlefield to keep most of his employees.

“We’re simply blown away by the local support that we’ve gotten,” Littlefield said. “We’ve been able to maintain our average retail out of our taproom, and that’s been amazing.”

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