Some beer can be distilled down to sanitizer or composted, but plenty of beer will simply be thrown out.

By Mike Pomranz
April 24, 2020
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To put it mildly, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how breweries operate. Even by mid-March, 99 percent of independent breweries polled by the trade group the Brewers Association (BA) had already said they were impacted by coronavirus. The hardest-hit category is draft beer: Due to restaurant and bar closures, distributed draft beer sales are down well over 90 percent, according to a BA report from earlier this month. And on-site sales for breweries—much of which comes out of their own tap lines—are down 65 percent on average.

The reality of these numbers is that—especially for breweries that focus on draft distribution or taproom sales—beer will likely have to be dumped after it passes its recommended shelf life and becomes unpalatable. The situation is so dire that, yesterday, the BA even went back and updated its article on “Best Practices for Responsible Disposal of Beer.” Yes, sadly, raise a glass in memoriam to the beers that will not make it.

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“The protracted closure of the hospitality sector and need for responsible social distancing makes it probable, if not inevitable, that brewers will need to dispose of out-of-code beer from the market or excess onsite inventory,” the BA writes. Though this “expired” beer won’t kill you, many modern brews have a focus on freshness, and these beers will deteriorate in quality to the point where they are not worth serving. In those cases, the BA adds the reminder, “When disposing of unsaleable beer, brewers need to do so responsibly.”

The BA provides three suggestions for disposal—two of which will inspire a tad more optimism. Similar to what the European wine industry plans to do with their excess wine, beer can be distilled down into alcohol for products such as sanitizer. Plenty of distilleries are already making hand sanitizer, but if they don’t have any fermented beverages to distill, that can slow production: As the BA explains, beer designated for dumping “can help alleviate the bottle neck.”

Another potential option is composting, though the BA warns that local composting operations and farmers “may or may not be able to process the volume of beer” in need of disposal.

Finally, as the least inspiring option, the BA also details disposal to municipal wastewater treatment.  Even that option can be far more complicated than simply dumping brews down the drain. Due to the way treatment plants operate, the BA warns that large injections of beer can overwhelm the processing capacity. The advice provided on how to proceed is surprisingly technical. “Communicating with your district directly will help you understand their needs, and allow you to make a responsible beer disposal plan,” the BA suggests.

Of course, there is one other option: last-ditch efforts to try to get the beer drunk. As Good Beer Hunting explained earlier this month, it’s possible—though not necessarily easy—to repackage keg beer into cans; and at least some breweries have been selling kegs at discounted prices directly to consumers. But at a time when large gatherings are prohibited, throwing keggers at home isn’t going to solve this problem. Unfortunately, instead, a large amount of beer is going to have to be dumped.

“We’re looking at a lot of kegs in my distributor’s warehouse that are getting to that point where we to look at options, and the top option is to dump it all,” Jaime Tenny, co-owner of South Carolina’s Coast Brewing Company, told The Post and Courier. “Actually, there are no (other) options.”