Across America, stadiums, entertainment venues and bars devoid of people are filled with something no one wants — stale beer growing older and flatter by the day.
The issue is not that America has stopped drinking. Americans locked away at home away from their favorite watering holes are consuming alcoholic beverages at a faster clip than usual. A Nielsen report found beer and cider sales are up roughly 20 percent, according to NBC News.
The issue is that all the countless kegs delivered in early March in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament are full of beer that is getting less and less drinkable by the moment, The Wall Street Journal reported April 24.
“This was the absolute worst time for this to happen for draft beer,” said Craig Purser, chief executive of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. “We have never ever seen an interruption like this where everything freezes in place.”
Kegs and kegs of beer are sitting untouched in stadiums, restaurants and bars. Brewers have to figure out what to do with it all before it goes stale. https://t.co/47lRBhslMa
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) April 26, 2020
The NBWA is estimating about 10 million gallons of beer, or almost 1 million kegs, have been left to go stale — and that’s just from March deliveries.
Other kegs are somewhere in the distribution chain, making the total hit to the industry about $1 billion, according to the NBWA.
Beer-makers would like to get those kegs back so they can be emptied and refilled for whenever lockdowns expire, but most places are not accessible. The Journal quoted executives as saying draft beer stays fresh in kegs for between two and six months.
Problems do not end when the kegs return, because the bad beer has to go somewhere. A mass dump down the drain would violate environmental rules.
“This is a hot potato because none of our businesses are set up to return massive amounts of beer,” Dan Vorlage, marketing head for Denver-based keg logistics company MicroStar Logistics LLC, told The Journal. “It takes three times as many trucks to transport full kegs than empty ones.”
MicroStar plans to treat all the beer it gets back to make it fit for disposal.
The economics of the beer industry are also shaky, given that establishments that bought beer from vendors have been closed for weeks and might not be able to pay for what no one drank.
“We’re afraid lots of places will close and won’t be able to open back up — they’re on very thin margins,” said Bob Pease, head of the Brewers Association, a trade body for small and medium-sized brewers.
D.G. Yuengling & Son will enlist the help of others to safely dispose of the flood of beer it expects to be returned.
“With each week going by more beer goes off,” Yuengling Chief Operating Officer David Casinelli said, adding that kegs could go bad sooner than usual.
“The kegs could all be warm. We have no idea how the beer has been handled,” he said.
Boston Beer, parent of Sam Adams, will brew returned beer into ethanol, according to CNBC. The company has been doing this for years but is stepping up the program as it expects a glut of returned beer.
Dogfish Head Brewery, a part of Boston Beer, is taking a slightly different approach. It is using high-proof ethanol to make hand sanitizer, Sam Calagione, its president told CNBC.
“Today we’re making enough hand sanitizer per week in our facility to clean over half a million hands,” Calagione said.
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