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42 Days Later: The New Normal

The vacant Saturday Market last weekend

On Thursday, I was driving through the south side of Downtown Portland when I encountered something I’ve never seen before and may never again. An elderly woman, shuffling across Columbia on SW 11th, with a four-wheeled walker. And this wouldn’t be unusual, except that she was jaywalking, around Noon, without a single car waiting for her to cross.

Welcome to the New Normal in Downtown Portland.

The workers and students are at home – all working from home, learning online, and/or unemployed, yet the suburbs continue to hum, with some places seeming to appear as if nothing’s changed at all.

It’s been two weeks since I last posted a proper article and while I relished the idea of doing a 28 Days Later story, I spent that weekend expanding the Delivery/Pickup List for Portland to now include Vancouver, then spent last weekend resting after my first week back delivering and visiting stores for work, after a month purely working from home.

In the scheme of things, it doesn’t feel like much has changed over the past two weeks, except that my perception of time has sped up and I’m beginning to see and personally feel the psychological impact this isolation has had on me and those I know. I’m doing well and feeling fine, just missing the presence of others, as I’m sure you are as well. If you need to chat or simply vent your frustrations, feel free to email me. We all need to hit the release valve from time to time, especially when shit’s as heavy as it is right now.

The intent this time around is a digest of sorts… what’s happening in the beer industry around the Portland Metro, in Oregon, plus scarcity concerns, and what’s next. While I wanted to infuse a bit of music, culture, and politics into this, these might become topics in future posts.

As always, feel free to hit me up if I got something wrong or overlooked anything of importance. Dissent, debate, and our collective understanding of facts amid this new reality are central in us getting through this as best we can.

Breweries, Cideries, Bottle Shops & Taprooms offering delivery & to-go service in Portland & Vancouver metro areas.

Portland Metro Beer

Over the past two weeks a number of breweries and taprooms that weren’t delivering or offering beer-to-go before, have now started doing so. Many of those late to the game are nationally or regionally distributed breweries (Widmer, Deschutes, Rogue, Migration, pFriem, etc) looking to provide a service, bring back employees, and keep up with the groundswell that has been home delivery.

Some of the smaller neighborhood breweries that’ve been draft focused have begun packaging for the first time (Barlow’s, Barrel Mountain, Pono, Second Profession, Thunder Island, West Coast Grocery, etc.). So be sure to seek them out in support of their new endeavors!

Aside from the clear success of those embracing delivery as the new ideal method of sales (including Baerlic, Ex Novo, Gigantic, Little Beast, Stormbreaker, Von Ebert, and more) the silver lining through all this is that I’m unaware of any brewery closures over the past two weeks.

Above all else, this trying time is underscoring the strength of our communities, as we continue to sustain an extremely dense and mature craft beer market. My primary concerns are these: how long can our current rate of purchases continue in light of the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression? Will local, state, and federal assistance do what it’s intended to and will it assist in staving off business closures? Only time will tell.

Oregon Craft Beer

The most visible signs of change, in Portland, from around the state have been the arrival of never before packaged beers from Barley Browns and Boneyard. Cases of Pallet Jack and RPM (and others) have been steadily arriving in bottleshops & taprooms, then selling out almost as quickly, over the past two weeks. Keep an eye out for more, as it sounds like they’ll continue to show up for a while to come.

Shirts available for purchase from the Oregon Brewers Guild

Last Thursday, the Oregon Brewers Guild announced the “Stay Home, Drink Beer Virtual Festival,” which will take place Saturday, May 2nd. The Guild has also created “Stay Home, Drink Beer” shirts for sale, and a Beer Box Raffle, with proceeds going toward the Guild’s mission of supporting Oregon’s brewers.

To understand why this cause is so important, you need look no further than the work Christina LaRue and Tony Roberts are doing to ensure brewers have access to all the resources they need during this difficult time. Their work includes promoting legislative action at the state & federal levels (via the Brewers Association), coronavirus resources, and all manner of other tools to help keep the state’s breweries in operation.

Scarcity of Materials?

One thing that’s become quite apparent to everyone over the past 6 weeks are the current disruptions in the supply chain: toilet paper, sanitizer, pasta, canned goods, etc. While this has been an inconvenience for us the consumer, such shortages and supply bottlenecks have also wrecked havoc on our breweries and taprooms with shortages and shipping delays of crowlers and other packaging materials.

While bakers yeast has seen a run with many now baking at home, brewers generally have a steady supply of yeast from either their own brinks, local suppliers, or other breweries in the community.

The only reported shortages, that I’ve encountered, have been in regard to carbon dioxide. While it’s been wonderful that people are driving less, as a result less ethanol is being produced, a primary byproduct of which is CO2. The Brewers Association, along with other industry groups, have reached out to the White House, requesting federal assistance to avoid a “substantial CO2 shortage.” With the closure of ~50 “specialized plants [that] collect CO2 for the food and beverage market,” the amount of CO2 production decreased 20% in March, with a 50% reduction projected for April.

While I’ve heard no indication of Malt or Hops being in short supply, there are early signs of concern, at least in Germany, where migrant labor from Poland and Romania is unavailable to assist in planting hops in the Hallertau area of Bavaria. Which makes you think, how much farming in America is done by migrant labor? How many workers are currently in the area, or even the state, where they generally work?

Aside from the obvious concerns that surround social gatherings and our beleaguered health care system, the impact of potential food, water, and other raw material shortages are something to be mindful of in our purchasing choices over the next 6+ months.

What Now Then…?

This is the million dollar question, right? I’m not gonna crystal ball this thing, but here’s what seems likely to me, based upon scientific studies and media accounts.

It seems likely that a loosing of restrictions will occur over the next few months, based upon how quickly testing and tracking increases, as well as PPE availability, hospital capacities, and the isolation of positive cases. Gov Brown was effectively quoted as such via CNN:

As far as flattening the curve goes, this is a chart posted by The Oregonian on Saturday. Part of an excellent article:

Of course, none of these indications mean that we’re anywhere near being out of the woods just yet. As I’m sure you’ve heard, the biggest concern is a return and potentially stronger mutation of the virus in the Fall and Winter months. For example, I had no interest in watching the NFL Draft this year because just like baseball, I’m skeptical of either happening in 2020.

Lastly, here’s an excellent 13 minute video that I can’t recommend enough. And keep in mind, this is projected as a best case scenario and involves us continuing to wear PPE for months. H/T to Nick for this one…

That’s it for now. I’ll be back to writing again soon, hopefully. In the meantime, be safe, take care of each other, and be well.

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