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Here's how local NYC breweries, distilleries and cider houses have adapted during the shutdown

Brooklyn Cider House has announced they're closing permanently and pivoting to online-only sales.
Written by
Shaye Weaver

The Brooklyn Cider House announced on Friday that it's permanently closing its brick-and-mortar location in Bushwick.

Peter Yi opened the hotspot in 2017, offering shared dining and the unique experience of catching cider flowing out from its barrels. But the citywide shutdown has brought an end to all of that, according to a spokesperson.

"With the pandemic cancelling all their events and wedding business, the need to continue to social distance and limit capacity in the coming months, it will not be possible to sustain the high operating costs," she said, noting that Yi recently recovered from the coronavirus.

Instead, Brooklyn Cider House is moving to an online store where fans can purchase its cider, created at the Twin Star Orchards in New Paltz. The beverage can also still be found at retailers throughout the state.

Brooklyn Cider House's pivot to online sales isn't unique—all of New York City's breweries, distilleries and cideries have had to make similar moves recently in order to survive.

Threes Brewing, which has locations in Gowanus, Greenpoint and Governors Island, had to furlough almost all of its staff when the virus hit back in March.

"It wasn’t lost on us that there'd be a lot of people young people who don’t have a big nest egg who wouldn’t be able to make rent," said the brewery's founder, Josh Stylman. "It felt like us, and other companies like us, were forced with a moral dilemma: killing the old or impoverishing the young. It was a moral conundrum."

Threes Brewing ended up closing ahead of the mandated shutdown. "At that point, we didn’t know what the future would hold," he said. "Then we saw that draft beers were not a thing anymore, at least for the foreseeable future and any drop of liquid we could get in a can should get in a can."

Thankfully, the state deemed breweries "essential," which allowed Threes to stay open and ship beer across the state temporarily via UPS or FedEx. Stylman and his team threw together "probably the worst" e-commerce website in three days so they could keep selling their product. 

"It was like wartime mentality—our bartenders who are now delivery drivers and servers who are now packing for shipping," he said. "Our team did an extraordinary job and did whatever they could do to reinvent the whole supply chain in under a week."

Doing this has helped the company hire back about 60 percent of its staff so far. 

Evil Twin Brewery in Ridgewood was also able to quickly pivot to shipping directly to customers via UPS across the state.

"That changed everything," said founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. "We went from selling no beer to selling out ... we had a full schedule pretty fast."

Both breweries hope that New York State will continue to allow them to deliver within state lines moving forward, especially as NYC reopens slowly with new safety protocols in place.

"We probably had a good chance of going out of business right around now," Stylman at Threes Brewing said. "Our feeling is that the web business is going to be a part of the connective tissue to bridge what we're doing now and what we were doing before. There's been speculation about what might or might not happen with the law—there's a lot of rumbling about being able to deliver direct to the customer. My feeling is: the cat’s out of the bag."

As for Talea Beer Co., a women-owned brewery aiming to open its first taproom in Williamsburg later this year, everything has been paused. Because it is a licensed wholesaler and not a licensed retailer, it can't sell directly to customers. On top of that, its founders, LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson, decided to pause brewing and deliveries to keep everyone safe.

Darland was eight months pregnant when the virus hit New York City and both of the founders' mothers had battled cancer and were immunocompromised. They also didn't want to risk their head brewer's health. Luckily, pausing didn't mean the end for Talea.

"It was not an easy decision—we had invested so much time and effort ... and we really miss brewing and having a product," Darland said. Luckily, Talea is working on getting another beer into the market within the next six to eight weeks and hopes to break ground on its taproom this summer for an early winter opening."

The pause in business has certainly forced Darland and Hankinson to reconsider their operating model.

"Breweries have shifted their revenue stream to a handful of different models and are investing in the ability to operate in tandem with taproom sales," Hankinson said. "We've made changes to our budget to try to create a much greater cash buffer so we do not have to lay off staff or if we are on the hook for six months rent without revenue if this goes longer."

"For us, it's great to see other breweries pivot successfully and be able to survive in something people thought would take out a lot of bars and restaurants and breweries across the city," she continued. "We are hopeful and happy, even though we've stopped operation, to see other breweries thrive."

Threes, which just launched a subscription service and is starting a loyalty program next week, knows its one of the lucky ones.

"Not all of [the city's breweries] have been fortunate as we have been," Stylman said. "That is, being able to do business through the internet. We're really hoping and praying things work out—for the lifeline of our city."

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