The online tap: How local craft breweries are managing COVID-19

With COVID-19, Kitchissippi breweries have had to adapt operations and business models. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sirko, co-owner of Vimy Brewing Company.

By Kristin Perrin

If you miss taproom tastings, and testing the latest creations at your favourite neighbourhood craft breweries, you are not alone. As spring turns to summer, we’re reminded of the memories from another season: the local patio season. Now, empty taprooms and patios wait to be filled once again with their thirsty, loyal patrons. 

When Covid-19 forced businesses to shut their doors, brewpubs had to adjust their business models quickly to respect safety protocols and distancing measures. In most cases, this meant majority-of-staff layoffs and the scaling down of operations to accommodate revenue losses. With minimal staffing, they’ve had to navigate uncharted territory throughout their busier season (including long weekends and holidays), all  while keeping a close eye on the ever-changing landscape with government rules and regulations. Across the board, breweries have embraced online sales. 

Kitchissippi Times caught up with Hintonburg’s Tooth and Nail Brewing Company and Vimy Brewing Company to see how their local teams have been managing throughout the pandemic. 

What have been the breweries’ challenges so far? 

Tooth and Nail: “Saying goodbye to the vast majority of our staff mid-March was the hardest thing I’ve faced to date as a business owner.” said Matt Tweedy, co-founder of Tooth and Nail Brewing. Co.  

“We have gone from a three-tier business, being a brewpub, wholesaler, and retailer of beer, to a single-tier, selling retail only for curbside pickup at the brewpub. We have finally found a groove with this model, but it still feels like we’re operating in the Twilight Zone,” he added.

Tweedy runs Tooth and Nail with his wife Dayne. While she is now working harder than ever as a mother with their two small children at home, he ‘lives’ at the brewery, day in and day out, to keep operations moving. On any given day, they are unsure if Tooth and Nail will be allowed to operate and to what extent. 

“It’s certainly been challenging, on both a personal and business level, but we are staying positive and are grateful that we’ve remained open in some capacity throughout the pandemic.” Tweedy said.  

Vimy: “The biggest challenge we’ve faced is inventory: keeping all of our six beers available in cans to go,” said Kevin Sirko, co-owner of Vimy Brewing Company.

According to Sirko, home deliveries have thankfully been a hit. With COVID-19,  Vimy faced the hard choice of reducing its team down to two staff members, Sirko and his brother, Mike. The brewery also had to cancel all its weekly events during its typically busy spring season (including popular trivia nights). 

Vimy has had to come to terms with the loss of substantial business, including a reduction of hours. Now, the brewery is only open three hours a day, six days a week. Online beer sales have become a lifeline for the company and other brewpubs in the same scenario. 

“Eventually, we wanted to have an online store,” said Sirko. “The pandemic forced us to open up an online store that we will keep indefinitely.”

Matt Tweedy, co-founder of Tooth and Nail Brewing. Co., pictured in a Kitchissippi Times file photo.

Do you see some of these changes remaining for good?

Tooth and Nail: “One of the great things about Tooth and Nail is the social interaction that happens within our space,” Tweedy said. “So my hope is that things return to normal (as we know it) sooner than later, and that people will start feeling comfortable getting out again. Online ordering would be a challenge with our old model, but we’ll take it as it comes.”

Vimy: “We are now offering free delivery to Ottawa, and $10 flat fee shipping to everywhere else in Ontario,” said Sirko.  “We also offer curbside pickup through our online store, and our retail shop is open for three hours every day of the week except for Monday.”  

What kind of brews can Ottawa craft beer lovers expect this summer?

Tooth and Nail: “We will continue with various beer releases every couple of weeks. We have a new lager called Fog Ducker that went over way better than I ever thought it would! So, we’ll see that one again, along with some old favourites like Stamina and Birds of Prey,” Tweedy said. “Our goal for this summer is to offer a good selection of super refreshing, lower alcohol beer.”

Vimy: “We are re-introducing Vimy Wheat Beer, our summer seasonal, on June 5th. Vimy Wheat Beer is a refreshing German-style Wheat Beer with notes of banana and clove……We like to call it the beer of summer!” said Sirko. 

If you’re experiencing neighbourhood taproom and patio with-drawl, you can still sip your favourite pints by visiting websites direct for delivery details and curbside pick-up options from your favourite local breweries: Tooth and Nail Brewing Company, Vimy Brewing Co. and Beyond The Pale. Cheers! 

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