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Dayton's Craft Breweries Are Struggling Without Taproom Sales

Warped Wing Brewery usually has a bustling taproom, but in-person places to drink have been shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Jason Reynolds
/
WYSO
Warped Wing Brewery usually has a bustling taproom, but in-person places to drink have been shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

When Ohio first ordered its bars to close, beer sales in grocery stores jumped 42 percent in a week. But for small craft breweries, on-site taprooms are often the largest and most reliable revenue stream. That leaves many Miami Valley breweries struggling to break even.

A lot of Ohioians are dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak by cracking open a cold one, but that doesn’t mean local breweries are doing well.

Nick Bowman, one of the founders of Warped Wing Brewery, says his wholesale business is on a roller coaster.

“Right when the Stay-at-Home went into effect, we saw a huge surge in the grocery store beer sales. People loaded their pantries with food and beer. Then, the week following, we saw a major slow down,” Bowman says.

And serving drinks to customers in-house has been banned, which means brewery taprooms have become ghost towns. That’s been tough on Warped Wing. Taproom sales are a large portion of their business, and they have a better profit margin than selling wholesale.

Now, Warped Wing has opened up it’s beer cellar, offering vintage dark and barrel-aged beers to people willing to pay a premium price.

They’ve also started offering curbside pickup and home delivery. Bowman says those services are growing, but it’s still not the same.

They’ve had to lay off more than 20 people over the past few weeks.

“They’re our motivation to keep this thing going so we can get our family back intact,” Bowman says.

Justin Kohnen from Star City Brewing Company, delivering beer in Miamisburg. While Star City generally has a five-mile delivery radius, Kohnen says they will gladly go further for large orders.
Credit Star City Facebook Page
Justin Kohnen from Star City Brewing Company, delivering beer in Miamisburg. While Star City generally has a five-mile delivery radius, Kohnen says they will gladly go further for large orders.

For other small breweries that are even more reliant on their taprooms, things are even harder.

“We don’t sell to grocery stores,” says Jutin Kohnen of Star City Brewing Company. “Our goal is to have people come down and drink beer in our building. So, our sales have definitely gone down. A lot of people didn’t even know we were open right now.”

Star City has started bottling their imperial stouts and high gravity beers. They’re also a winery, so they’re able to offer customers a lot more options. They’re delivering now, too, but Kohnen says so far that’s been slow going. He says changing so many things about his business and making customers aware of what he’s doing isn’t easy.

“It’s going to take capital just to start a new avenue,” he says, “and obviously, there’s not money coming in. We’re just trying to break even. I know you have to spend money to make money, but I’m in a situation where I don’t have the money to spend to make more money.”

Kohnen says his business can last two, maybe three more months like this; beyond that, it’s impossible to say.

Dayton’s first new craft brewery opened in 2010. In the decade since, dozens of small breweries have popped up all across the Miami Valley.

But Nick Bowman at Warped Wing says those days of rapid growth are gone, at least for now.

“That’s the new world. It’s survival. What can we do to survive?,” Bowman wonders. “It used to be profitable. It’s not nearly what we had going, but we’re fighting to keep going.”

If the Coronavirus shutdown doesn’t last too long, craft breweries expect to bounce back — and keep some of their new practices, like home delivery. But the longer the shutdown lasts, the fewer local breweries there may be.