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The Covid-19 pandemic has hit many retailers and producers hard, with closures, social distancing guidelines and supply issues. However it has also ignited a community spirit, with members of the indie beer sector coming together to keep businesses alive during these times.
Independent bottle shops had to adapt and change overnight in order to keep customers, including setting up delivery services. Ed Barnes from Hopsters explains, “From being a hybrid retail/bar unit, we became a local delivery service for all of our customers. We promoted the shops menu via Untappd and quickly set up a same delivery system for people in the same town as our stores and then a weekly, county-wide delivery schedule for those who live a bit further afield. Our customers really appreciated it and started ordering straight away and at times, we’ve been busier than we normally would be.”
Jules Gray of Hop Hideout described the last few months as a “rollercoaster”. She says, “It’s been a very challenging and anxious time. We’re grateful and humbled our customers have kept supporting us (and we’ve gained new customers also). The majority of sales are still via our website and we couldn’t operate without that, it’s been critical. Fortuitously we knew this would be essential when we set up back in 2013.
“In store shopping and drink in (we’re based in a food hall) is slowly returning, but it’ll be a long and gradual process, understandably. We still have a part-time furloughed staff member, so have been regularly keeping in touch and the next steps, once right, will be a return to work in August. It’s been tough managing the increased workload through an already stressful time. In a way the biggest change seems to be the world around us. So we’re just evolving and adapting as we go along.”
With many businesses struggling without grant support and no official organisation backing, Jules spearheaded a campaign to champion the indie beer retailer sector, in collaboration with small brewery Donzoko. The collaborative beer, Indie Graft, is available exclusively to independent beer shops and customers were encouraged to buy the beer from their local retailer and join a live tasting and Q&A session on 18th July to celebrate the launch.
Jules said, “This celebration would be a win-win - for customers an exclusive great tasting beer to buy and try, supporting their local independent, and for beer shops driving much needed real and virtual/online footfall and sales. We wanted to build a live tasting into the launch, so the beer was released a couple of weeks before that date. The beer shop network was built from an active online group and some of my existing contacts - Hop Hideout’s been around since 2013, so I’ve met a few people over the years! The live Instagram tasting was really well attended and we had multiple beer shop owners jump in and ask questions to Donzoko, which was a nice build on the Instagram tasting.”
Hopsters Craft Ales was one of the retailers involved in the campaign and praised its efforts to showcase the industry. “It’s a great way to encourage people to support and explore your local bottle shop,” Ed said. “There’s so much competition out there in the form of supermarkets, online sellers, direct sales from breweries… it just seemed like a good idea to show off what your local bottle shop can do. Not only do you get an incredible selection, but you also don’t have to pay P&P and you don’t have to buy all your beer from one brewery. That, plus the staff expertise is what makes the bottle shop an amazing part of the craft beer industry.”