Like most small breweries that rely on taproom sales for a significant chunk of their revenue, Candia Road Brewing Company (CRBC) in Manchester was hit hard when pandemic-related closures forced them to shut down and disassemble their tap lines.
But an increase in homebrewing during the stay-at-home orders may have helped the company keep its lights on, according to brewer Mike Neel.
Neel said it was never their intention to can a lot of their beers. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CRBC would probably put two of its five barrels into cans, and put the majority into kegs and sell them out of the taproom.
But they adapted the same way many other brewers did, by canning more. Until recently, with the partial re-opening through outdoor patios, Neel said they were canning all five barrels of each batch.
Cans were sold through curbside pickup, delivery or retailed through a handful of stores who asked for their products. But cans, especially when a brewer doesn’t have their own canning line, have a much lower profit margin.
“Business definitely went down,” Neel said.
Thankfully, Candia Road had one unique niche that they had working for them: a homebrew supply store.
“A lot of people at home during the stay-at-home orders, were starting to homebrew again,” Neel said.
He said homebrew supply sales increased by about 50 percent, at least.
Beer sales were also relatively strong, considering the challenges, for the first two months as patrons turned out to show their support. But by the third month, sales slowed, Neel said.
They used some of that downtime to make some upgrades to the brewery, including a new exterior paint job, a new 1,000-square-foot outdoor patio and two new brewing tanks to replace a couple outdated tanks.
They also build an ordering window for patio guests. Neel and two other employees did the labor themselves, but the company invested about $15,000 for all the improvement projects, including the new tanks.
The brewery opened the business to outdoor seating on last week and created a new website — candiaroadbrewingco.com — for making reservations.
Seating is limited to eight picnic tables that seat three to six people, and three two-person tables, while the social distancing guidelines are in place. A $10 down payment will secure a 1-hour reservation.
They have 11 beers on draft and a full food menu, which can be found on their website.
After indoor seating is allowed again, Neel said the brewery will have nearly doubled its overall capacity. For now, the new outdoor seating arrangement is going to be a learning curve he said.
“We’re all very excited. It is kind of a nerve-racking thing not really knowing what to expect,” he said.
Neel said the new tanks have better temperature control mechanisms, which will enable them to have greater control over the quality and consistency of their beers. For now, their beer capacity will remain the same.
They lent the old brewing tanks to Live Free Distillery, located just around the corner on East Industrial Park Drive in Manchester, so the distiller can increase its sanitizer production capacity.
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