Even as states reopen from pandemic lockdowns, the idea of beer fests remains far off. A crowd of attendees in one compact space—drinking the same beers in sample cups—is likely unsafe until we have a cure for COVID-19.
But breweries, retailers and beer review websites still have a need for the publicity generated by tasting festivals. And craft fans surely feel like they’re missing out on trying new brews. What to do?
Enter Untappd, along with the New York-based beer retailer Half Time. These two industry leaders recently teamed up to organize a virtual beer fest that benefits industry members who’ve been negatively affected by the novel coronavirus.
Their two-day digital experience will take place Sat., June 13, from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET, and Sun., June 14, from 4 p.m. ET to 6:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are on sale now through May 25. Curated cases of craft beer ship to attendees (in states that allow DTC sales), and include 11 brews, a $10 gift card to Untappd’s merchandise store, $10 gift card to Half Time Beverage, and links to the two streaming tasting sessions with Untappd founder Greg Avola and a panel of brew masters. Also there is a BYOB package that has the streaming links but not the beer case.
Festival organizers will donate 20% of proceeds to the Restaurant Strong Fund. Created in partnership by Samuel Adams and the Greg Hill Foundation, this fund aids restaurant workers impacted by COVID-19 closures.
The idea for a virtual festival fundraiser came to the Untappd team about a month ago, as a way to innovate during these unusual times.
“We’re on hold right now with live events as a company and as a world,” says Talia Spera, Untappd director of festivals & live events. “Our team was trying to think out of the box for a way to give the beer-loving world a great experience. And we thought about some of our core clientele, bars and restaurants, which have been so impacted, and wondered, ‘How can we help them?’”
In the age of Zoom, the concept of a virtual beer festival seemed natural. And for a partner who could help pick out and ship beers to attendees, Half Time also came easily to mind. The retailer is a pioneer in that space.
“They are the OG of beer shipping,” Spera says. “They’ve been at it the longest.”
Half Time has also organized beer festivals for years, and counts deep contacts within the craft industry. Several weeks ago, the retailer began reaching out to breweries.
“Basically anyone I called wanted to get involved to help out the relief fund,” says Jason Daniels, Half Time chief operating officer.
Finding participants is likely much simpler than mailing out their products.
“Shipping beer has never been an easy process,” says Daniels. “We work with certain carriers, and recently, national carriers are jumping in as well. Our goal is to get good beer out to good people who can’t necessarily get their hands on these beers.”
The beer case for the virtual festival contains an array of producers and styles. “This is a unique opportunity,” says Daniels. “A lot of these breweries, people around the country cannot get this stuff.”
Especially residents of the West Coast. The case includes Oxbow Luppolo, Fiddlehead IPA, Mikkeller Killer Waves, Sloop Juice Bomb, Burlington Beer Elaborate Metaphor, Single Cut Softly Spoken Magic Spells, Finback Brewery Perpetual Pilsner, Industrial Arts Spring Landscape German Bock, Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue, Allagash Curieux Belgian tripel and Decadent Ales Banana Macadamia Fudge Cake stout.
“It’s a cool, eclectic mix,” says Daniels. “Our goal is for people to taste new things.”
This sort of festival may be how beer fans collectively get their hands on new brews for some time.
“Tasting festivals have a unique set of challenges right now,” says Spera. “We all want to be close with friends and share a drink, but there are so many safety issues we need to look at. The opportunity for a virtual beer festival is here, now. We don’t know for how long the need for virtual beer festivals will apply.”
“Virtual festivals and get-togethers might become the new norm,” he says. “We obviously want to go back to normal times, but in the meantime, we wanted to offer beer fans and breweries a way to sample that’s quote-on-quote ‘the same’.”
To his point, the virtual festival is another example of how craft breweries have adapted during a difficult time. Taprooms, once the lifeblood of so many businesses, remain locked down. Delivering beers directly to consumers has become a successful, alternative revenue stream. Two other sales strategies that have proved effective are expanded canning and distribution.
Half Time, deemed an essential business, is open, and willing to help breweries increase their exposure to consumers.
“Breweries right now continue to adapt and work with us to make sure they can get beers into the store,” says Daniels, “whether through distribution or self-distribution. We’re reaching out to a self-distributed breweries, and a lot of them are just thankful to get product out the door.”
This reflects the creativity and resiliency needed to open and operate a craft brewery in the first place. Reasons why the industry, albeit battered, will emerge from this pandemic in a functional form.
“These guys are the most creative people out there,” says Spera. “If they continue to innovate, they will do just fine.”
Note: States eligible for shipping are AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, ID, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, NH, NY, NJ, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, TN, TX, VA, WA and WI.