Let’s state the obvious first: 2021 was a difficult year for the food and beverage industry.
In beer specifically, the pandemic has affected nearly everything, from staffing to draft sales to sourcing things like hops and cans. Brewers I talked to last year were almost universal in their assessments of the state of the industry: that 2021 was a lot better than 2020, but that it’s also been incredibly hard keeping things on the rails.
Moving beyond those business realities, the pandemic has also put a lot of things in perspective. Now more than ever is a great time to linger over a pint with friends or to open that special bottle you’ve been saving. Here are a few takeaways on how we, the beer consumer, experienced 2021.
It’s truly a great time to drink local.
Personally, the pandemic has slowed life down and gotten me to appreciate my immediate surroundings. And one thing I noticed in 2021 is that I chased rare beers less and appreciated local breweries more. For me that meant more trips to Mayflower, Untold, Stellwagen, Widowmaker, and District 10, and fewer to Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vt. Supporting local businesses feels good, and is good for the economy. There’s a ton of great beer nearly everywhere you look in Massachusetts nowadays, and less of a need to travel for it.
When travel is possible, beer is still a great way to get a sense of place.
Travel, of course, is not a bad thing when it can be done safely. In February 2020, the last time I traveled before the pandemic, I sat at a picnic table at a brewery a few blocks from the beach and experienced the grittier-than-expected vibes and stellar barrel-aged beer menu at Cycle Brewing in St. Petersburg, Fla. This summer, more than a mile above sea level, my party settled into a Colorado brew pub after a morning of ATVing in the mountains. Visiting a brewery can anchor you, act as a point of reference, and introduce you to the people in a place you’ve never been. That’s always been true, but is easy to overlook during times when we take travel for granted.
The Greater Boston beer scene as we know it is now a decade on.
This July, Framingham’s Jack’s Abby brewery turned 10. The anniversary was a reminder that we’re all getting old, and also that the Greater Boston beer scene as we know it is relatively young. Several other breweries opened around the same time, including Night Shift (2012), Idle Hands (2010), Trillium (2013), and the now-shuttered Mystic (2011). Of course, Boston Beer Co. and Harpoon were brewing here decades earlier, but that wave of breweries that included Jack’s Abby felt transformational, and helped push growth to the more than 200 breweries in Massachusetts today.
Brewers are remarkably resilient
At the beginning of the pandemic, Harpoon co-founder Dan Kenary predicted that breweries would weather the pandemic better than many people thought.
“I thought the numbers that people threw out there about how many breweries were going to go out of business was always way, way too high,” Kenary said in June 2020. “Because we’re an amazingly resilient bunch. Fewer breweries than people feared aren’t going to reopen on the other side of this.”
Kenary has mostly been proven right, though the industry has also been hit by losses, including the closures of Gloucester’s Cape Ann Brewing and all five Boston Beer Works locations. Still, it’s been remarkable to see breweries shift from draft to can sales, begin mailing beer through UPS, shutter tap rooms and open patios, and then sort out the daily issues posed by low staffing and COVID-19.
Many of your favorite breweries have survived. Let’s hope 2022 treats us all a little better.