Restrictions on bars and restaurants to try to reduce COVID-19 infections imposed this week by Gov. Tim Walz dealt another blow to Minnesota’s once high-flying brewery industry.
Minnesotans looking for a pint have their pick of options from nearly 200 craft breweries across the state, thanks to a law passed in 2011 that allowed breweries to operate tap rooms for the first time. But less than a decade after the craft beer boom took off in Minnesota, the industry may be in trouble.
Minnesota’s 51-day stay-at-home order early in the pandemic was tough on breweries, which faced a “triple whammy” as they lost taproom sales and orders from bars and restaurants that serve their beer, said Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.
It was also tough on workers. The leisure and hospitality industry, which includes breweries, has been hit the hardest by job losses in Minnesota. The number of payroll positions in the industry fell more than 50% in April compared to the year before, and was still down 25% in September while other industries had recovered.
After restrictions were loosened, business was still slow throughout the summer and fall, Bennett McGinty said. And now, breweries that have relied on outdoor seating — where COVID-19 is less likely to spread — are facing the uncertainty of what the cold months ahead might bring, as well as new restrictions from Walz that prohibit in-person service at bars and restaurants after 10 p.m., ban bar seating and limit capacity to 150 people.
Breweries across the state are developing creative ways to keep customers warm and safe with seating in outdoor structures through the winter, or hoping to expand their indoor seating into production areas for more space, she said. Still, there’s no way to know if that will bring in enough customers to keep small breweries in business.
“As new restrictions roll in and as cases get a lot higher here, there’s generally a sense of fear for the winter,” Bennett McGinty said. “Everybody is in this state of suspension, and they don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Here’s more on Minnesota’s beer scene, in five charts.