During normal times, City Brew Tours shuttles groups of beer-lovers to and from a handful of urban breweries, giving riders the chance to sample brews and go behind the scenes of some of their favorite beer-makers. The company was founded in Burlington, Vt., in 2008 and operates in 11 locations; in a city like Boston, it runs upwards of 20 tours a week.
With breweries nationwide closed due to COVID-19, founder Chad Brodsky was forced to get creative. The results are two virtual beer experiences that cooped-up fans of the beverage can do from home: guided beer and cheese tastings, as well as instructional home brewing sessions.
"We knew what we were good at," says Brodsky. "We had expert guides with combined decades of craft brewing experience. It's one of the things we look for when hiring, people who have already opened Pandora's box about brewing and beer."
Logging onto the City Brew Tours website gives you two virtual options: joining an already scheduled brew session or tasting, or booking your own group event.
"The people that are signing up are couples stuck at home. We've had more men than women. And we've seen a lot of corporate groups," says Brodsky.
The home brewing experience is turnkey. After signing up, the company will send you everything you need. The kit is customized based on employees' previous trial and error.
"We didn't want to just take a kit that's on the market," says Brodsky. "We knew that there's parts of those kits that aren't user-friendly and create bad first experiences."
Accessibility was also a factor.
“How do you teach home brewing and get people excited about it but not have them on a video call for 4 to 5 hours? We were able to cut that down to two or two-and-a-half hours,” Brodsky said.
"There was definitely a learning curve at the beginning, getting familiar with Zoom from a classroom and teaching perspective. They need to see what you're doing."
For the tasting sessions, groups can sign up to get pre-curated packages of local beer, cheese, and chocolate delivered — say for a birthday party. Individuals can also join prescheduled public sessions and meet like-minded folks.
"We give people an hour extra on the Zoom call just to stay and shoot the breeze," says Brodsky. "The guide doesn't have to stay on, but he can if he's having a good time. What we've seen is people just hanging out. Beer is definitely a social lubricant. It doesn't just end after the tasting."
More info and pricing on all virtual options can be found at citybrewtours.com/beer-events-at-home.
Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.