Local breweries adjust to new rules in stay-at-home times

More Brewing Company opened its second craft brewery in Huntley on Saturday, Feb. 29 in what used to be a Chevrolet dealership on Automall Drive, and business was booming.

For three weeks.

“We were rocking and rolling and all of a sudden we came to a halt,” co-owner Perry Papel said. “We’re struggling, but we’re trying to make sure our employees still have jobs, trying to make enough beer to keep the place going.”

Businesses have been forced to change quickly after Gov. JB Pritzker issued his stay-at-home mandate last weekend regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The hope is that keeping people from gathering in crowds will curb the spread of coronavirus.

Breweries have adapted with curbside pickup and home delivery. Pritzker signed an order to allow for home delivery of craft beers this week, which could make a significant impact for breweries and their employees.

Many places are using bartenders and servers as delivery personnel to keep them working.

“We put together a form on the web, people can place an order, we call to confirm and take their credit card information, we assemble and take it to their house,” said John O’Fallon, co-founder of Crystal Lake Brewing Company. “There are protocols we follow. Our drivers change gloves every time they go out. We have sanitizing procedures. We have a sanitizing solution for growlers (glass beer containers) on-site anyway. We feel like we’re operating in a very responsible and safe way. If we didn’t think we could do that, we would just close.”

O’Fallon was thankful that Crystal Lake Brewing Company and some other breweries were lumped in with restaurants, even though it does not serve food, and allowed to remain open.

Scorched Earth Brewing, in Algonquin, is in a similar situation.

“It’s complicated. It’s something none of us anticipated,” Scorched Earth owner Mike Dallas said. “As a small business, we don’t do contingency planning for something like this. It’s been basically a day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour, process right now. Like everyone, we have anxiety. It’s stressful trying to anticipate what’s going to happen business-wise and how we’re going to respond to it.”

Scorched Earth has online ordering and curbside pickup available. Dallas said delivery service could be in place by the weekend.

Tangled Roots Brewing Company, in Ottawa, plans to open new breweries in Lockport and LaSalle. So far, construction on the new facilities has not been stopped, although management fears that could be coming.

“We’re a brew-pub, so we have two aspects to our lives, one is the restaurant, the other is the beer business,” Tangled Roots CEO Keith Pearse said. “The whole closing down of restaurants and taverns has put a big kibosh on our business.”

Tangled Roots has pickup and soon will have home delivery.

“That’s more of a service to the community than making a difference to our bottom line,” Pearse said. “It keeps a couple of our employees being employed for the interim. It’s a bit of a survival game, do what you can at the moment.”

O’Fallon said lager beers, like Crystal Lake Brewing Company’s best seller Beach Blonde, remain fresh in their tanks for months.

“Ales have a shorter life, but they’re pretty stable,” he said. “If ales are sitting in tanks more than four to six weeks, it might be a problem, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

As a new business in McHenry County – More Brewing has a brewery in Villa Park – Papel said they are taking an aggressive approach.

“We are actually bumping up our brewing process right now,” Papel said. “We have a lot of beers, people are always looking for them. We want to make sure we’re putting out the best beers possible.”

Scorched Earth’s Taproom Heroes, as Dallas refers to them, will see their job descriptions change when home delivery is setup. Dallas wants to keep them working and appreciated customers’ sentiments toward his employees last weekend with the impending closing of the building.

“I’m not surprised, to be honest. We’ve had such amazing customers and fans of Scorched Earth,” Dallas said. “A lot of people came out and supported our staff. You could see from the tipping that was taking place that people supported our bartenders. It was terrific to see.

“The hospitality industry is getting its butt kicked right now. A lot of other businesses are affected too. I know people staying home is not the normal course of life. We’re all doing our best to manage and get through it.”