Craft beer brewers in Arizona prove resilient in pandemic

November 8, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Craft beer is billion-dollar business in Arizona. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit about eight months ago and bars and restaurants closed, the brewers of one craft beer in Tempe said they lost half their business — selling beer in kegs.

They changed their business model overnight by switching to cans and keeping their loyal and thirsty customers happy, according to Phoenix radio station KJZZ-FM.

“Well, people are drawn to craft beer like they’re drawn to their local farmers market,” said Chip Mulala of Huss Brewing, which was founded about seven years ago and now is the third-largest brewer in the state.


But things could have been different after the coronavirus came to town.

“For the past, going on six months now, overnight, half of our business was wiped out. So half of our business we sold beers to bars and restaurants, resorts and hotels, and that’s all keg beer,” Mulala said.

By changing from kegs to cans, Huss discovered that people still wanted to drink locally but they bought their beer at stores.

“We’re now pretty much, 85% of our business, is in cans,” Mulala told KJZZ. “When it used to be about a 50-50 split, where we did cans, and kegs for all these restaurants.”

Mulala said it’s loyalty that keeps craft beer going.

“Our beers are only available here in Arizona. So you know, we’re home team proud, and we have a big following of local fans that keep us going, you know especially in tough times like now,” Mulala said.

Huss was in a good position to make the transition from kegs to cans because they were already canning.

But some brewers relied entirely on keg sales, said Dylan DeMiguel, a partner at The Shop Beer Company in Tempe.

“I think we’re finding that our breweries have been pretty resilient. And they’ve also been fairly agile,” said Rob Fullmer of the Arizona Craft Beer Guild. “A great many of them have had to switch their business model quite a bit during this pandemic and adjust to government regulations, and as a guild we’ve been sort of shepherding through that process.”

Most breweries have been able to survive the pandemic with few furloughs or layoffs, according to Fullmer.

He said they’ve done it through federal paycheck protection plans and shifting business models. But most of all, they did it with local support.