“This helps the entire industry grow over the long term,” Stout said. “You are getting smaller producers able to reach consumers to grow their brand and grow their reach.”
The craft beer industry suffered mightily from pandemic closures and the habit changes that came as a result. Since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, 37 craft breweries in Illinois have closed. Stout said those closures are not slowing down.
The problems started when the closure of taprooms and restaurants cut off brewers’ main revenue stream for months. Smaller breweries did not have the distribution networks to maintain their sales as consumers started buying all their beer in grocery or convenience stores, and most states prohibit online beer sales. Plus, canning is more expensive than selling on draft.
Consumers have not fully returned to taprooms, where roughly 70% of craft beer revenue is generated. Stout said most breweries around the state report taproom sales that are only 70% to 80% of pre-pandemic levels.
The ability to ship directly to consumers could help downstate Ava-based Scratch Brewing find growth after a rough couple of years, said owner Marika Josephson.
“People just became so accustomed to ordering online during the pandemic. It now seems so backward or antiquated to think that there’s anything you can’t buy online, but beer is one of those things in Illinois,” she said. “We’re losing out.”
Scratch’s beer production is still down about 30% from where it was pre-pandemic, Josephson said. Nestled in the woods about an hour and a half drive south of St. Louis, the brewery considers itself a bit of a destination. That made the going get a little rough when travel ceased.
The brewery only brews about 200 barrels of beer a year. It’s mostly specialty brews, made using ingredients like paw paw and sassafras foraged from their farm. But Josephson said she constantly hears from customers in North Carolina and other states, asking if they can order online. She tells them no. The brewery was also recently named as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Outstanding Bar category, an accolade that turns heads nationally.
“We would love to be selling more,” Josephson said. “We would be able to pay all of our employees a little bit more, and give them some benefits.”
The bill, which has been introduced in the Illinois Senate and is expected to be introduced to the Illinois House of Representatives in the coming days, marks the guild’s second attempt in as many years to try to codify direct-to-consumer beer shipping into law.
The newest bill puts a cap on how much beer a consumer can order online — 12 cases, which contain 24 beers each — per year. Stout said he thinks that cap makes the bill more likely to pass. He does expect push back from distributors, however.
The guild also introduced what it is calling the “Beer Omnibus Bill,” which seeks to formalize and clarify a few aspects of beer operation, and make it easier for breweries to operate.
That bill would legalize reward programs and clarify how craft beer donations can be used by nonprofit organizations, both areas that are currently legally murky, Stout said. It would also remove water reporting requirements from breweries, which have become a burden, and increase how much beer some breweries can move from their production facilities to their taprooms, among other items, he said.
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February 10, 2023 at 05:19PM