Sooke craft beer producers brew through COVID-19 storm

Connecting with the customer challenging, but beer sales nearly recession-proof

  • May. 9, 2020 6:25 a.m.

Dawn Gibson | Sooke News Mirror

Beer appears to be “recession-proof,” Sooke brewers say as they barrel through the vast set of challenges presented with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three regional craft beer producers – Sooke Oceanside Brewery, Bad Dog Brewing Company and Sooke Brewing Company – have managed to remain operating since the pandemic began, after making a few minor changes in service.

Ryan Orr, owner of Sooke Oceanside Brewery, said it’s been extremely challenging, as he and his brewer have been running the business alone since the pandemic began.

Orr laid off all his staff, and only allows one or two people in the brewery at a time to adhere to social distancing rules.

Orr said the most challenging part of adapting to the pandemic has been losing all the tap accounts at local bars and restaurants around Greater Victoria, which make up a large portion of the brewery’s income.

Last summer, the brewery expanded its manufacturing facility expecting things to kick up a lot this summer, but distribution has been undoubtedly slower, as restaurants have closed their in-person service.

“We have about 15 or 20 tap accounts and were expecting more this summer, which would have greatly increased our presence. But the reality of the situation is, this may not happen this summer,” said Orr, adding he feels lucky to be open and still have sales, regardless of the temporary loss in business.

“Things are remarkably challenging, but it could be a lot worse. We are having to get really creative in figuring out ways to increase our sales and push our products.”

The brewery has products in approximately 80 liquor stores throughout Greater Victoria, and hopes to expand on to the mainland. They have started doing delivery to the Sooke Region, as well as to Metchosin, and though the tasting room is closed, people are still allowed to come in and pick up beer.

“I’m not going down without a fight. But it’s a scenario of how long can we hold our breath? And the bigger question is, how long will we have to? The future is unclear, so it’s hard to plan when we are unsure of when this situation will end,” said Orr, explaining that the effects of the pandemic are going to be “astronomical” to small business owners and the hospitality industry.

“But everyone says alcohol is recession-proof, and so far it seems to be true.”

Beer fans can keep an eye out for seasonal brews such as the Apricot Ale to be back on tap as the weather heats up.

ALSO READ: Sooke eyes more budget cuts due to COVID-19 pandemic

John Lyle, who owns Bad Dog Brewery with his wife Rosie, said that business is somewhat usual despite the pandemic.

Bad Dog Brewery has always had a main focus on a packaged product style of distribution, so restaurants and bars closing haven’t had the same impact on the brewery’s sales.

“There haven’t been too many major challenges, we are just pushing forward waiting for things to turn around,” said Lyle.

“There’s been a lot of support from Sooke, people stopping by and buying product from all the Sooke breweries which is really appreciated.”

Their beer is sold in about 20 private liquor stores on the Island, as well as directly from the brewery.

Lyle said they have a takeout window set up for people to pick up beer, and are also offering delivery service in the Sooke region, towards Jordan River, as well as in the Metchosin and Langford area.

Though people are not allowed to come in and stay for tastings, the outdoor picnic area at Bad Dog Brewery remains open.

Lyle noted that they are coming out with a few new beers this summer, hoping to stir up some excitement for the brewery’s fans.

“One of the new beers is called Peel Out, an orange peel IPA,” said Lyle, adding the other new beers in the works are still “top secret.”

John Adair, one of the five owners of Sooke Brewing Company, said the first couple weeks of March were extremely rough, considering their business model is almost entirely based around public gatherings in their lounge, but things are starting to look up.

“The whole business was turned on its head, but now we have started a takeout-style of service, as well as deliveries to Sooke, Victoria and Langford,” said Adair.

The brewing company also got creative and launched a hand sanitizer for people to purchase, which can also be delivered locally, bought directly from the store, or from their website.

“I’m definitely starting to feel optimistic and positive now,” said Adair, adding Sooke has done a great job of rallying behind the business. “I think the community is the reason we are able top keep going, and we will see the other side of this.”

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