Greater Expectations: The New Normal

When it comes to writing, I have a process. Whether my article is going to be primarily photos, or like this one, primarily text, I will start writing the article in my head before I sit down at my laptop. I don’t write the entire thing in my head, but I know what I want to be sure to touch on. If I visited a new brewery, or attended some craft beer event, it is pretty easy because I will always take photos that will remind me of what I wanted to mention so I don’t forget. Articles like this one are typically things I think about when walking Buddy. However, before I ever sit down to write any type of article I have to come up with the title. I guess this comes from my days of writing press releases; but the title keeps me focused on what the article will contain. Sometimes coming up with the title is the hardest part.

The original subject matter for this article came to me two years ago. In fact, it was May 22, 2018 that I first spoke with Gary Magnone of HoppedLA and pitched him my idea. My specific pitch was the article would discuss the expectations of 2018 compared to 2012 when it came to craft breweries. Of course, this would be as far as our local Los Angeles craft beer scene was concerned. I gave him first right of refusal, so while I write this, I am not sure if it will be published on HoppedLA or on CraftBeerGuy.

In a nutshell, in this article I would reminisce about how when the South Bay’s craft beer scene first arrived, or when I became aware of it because I wasn’t home much back then. Breweries were open four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, for a total of maybe 20 hours a week. They had four or five beers on tap, and we were happy.

Then Absolution Brewing came along. I remember reading their Conditional Use Permit application and how they wanted to open on Wednesdays also, and they wanted to stay open later. Their request was granted and things started to change around here. Things changed even more at their grand opening when they had 10 beers on tap as well as a root beer and cream soda they brewed.

Before it wasn’t long before most of the breweries around here were requesting longer hours and more open days via their initial Conditional Use Permit or by modifying their existing one. The number of taps increased as well.

This would be followed up by talking about the inclusion of food trucks, growlers, crowlers, bottling, and canning and how can you be serious about succeeding if you weren’t doing this, that, or the other thing.

To be honest, coming up with an appropriate title was becoming a real pain in the butt. On top of that, the longer I took to come up with a title, the more things happened that would suggest my original ideas were nonsense. For instance, in August 2018 Hōkūle’a Brewing opened with only three of their own brews, making me think maybe I jumped the gun on my presumptions. They ended up closing a few months later.

In August 2019 Project Barley delayed their grand opening to make sure they had enough brews for everyone, having seven different beers to offer after ditching one they were not happy with.

Long story short, about three months ago I decided upon the title, “Greater Expectations.” I figured with all the changes and my personal opinions/observations I could write a pretty good article; and then we got locked down with COVID-19. Whatever expectations I thought I would be writing about went right out the window. Now I guess it is all about the “new normal.”

Naturally, the morning I sit down to write this, Governor Newsom changes things up again, allowing people in Los Angeles County to eat at brewpubs and drink beer in breweries, but with lots of rules.

Naturally, I am happy for all the brewery, brewpub, and gastropub owners, but this is going to look very different for us; at least for the foreseeable future. Since guidelines have not been put in place at the time I am writing this, my expectations are based on conversations with friends that work in various food and beer related industries, new employment opportunities I have seen advertised, and various comments I have seen via social media.

The following is what we can expect at the beginning; hopefully this will not evolve into a new normal, but who knows. I have been wrong before.

One thing we can count on is that we will be seated at tables of no more than six, and the tables will be six feet apart. You will start seeing a lot of table service to eliminate lines, and sitting at the bar will be eliminated at some places; fewer barstools at others. You will not be able to walk up to talk to your friend at another table. That is, if you could recognize them anyway, because I suspect you will be wearing a mask except for when you are actually sipping. I expect you will see a lot of parking spaces taken up with tables; that could present some parking issues in some neighborhoods.

A big question in my mind is the food issue at breweries; apparently having food is important to the new guidelines. What I don’t know is do they have to have a food truck available during all open hours? That could be very tough for many breweries. It seems that as of this writing, food is required with all alcohol purchases at brewpubs. I know of at least a couple tasting rooms that are talking about having sandwiches on hand.

You can likely expect that to-go beer will continue to be a big thing, probably with its own line at the brewery; the question would be, how about the local home delivery service? It was easy to put the staff on delivery duty, but if they are back at work does it make financial sense to hire delivery people, or do you rely on services like Door Dash? I would not expect to see anyone dropping the shipping option.

The more I learned about these expectations, the more anxious (for lack of a better word) I became about what this means as a consumer, specifically a single guy that goes to breweries to sit at the bar and talk to the beertender, or have conversations with others sitting at the bar. I have always believed in community tables, never hesitating to let strangers join me at my table. I understand you gotta do what you gotta do, but I would probably feel pretty guilty taking up a table of four or six just so I can have a fresh beer on tap.

These new rules pretty much eliminate the community that craft beer loves to promote and that is why I certainly hope this does not become the new normal.

As far as greater expectations, breweries are still scheduled to open around here and others are expanding. As I wrote this, San Pedro Brewing announced they are open for dine-in, and Scholb announced you can drink there, so there is progress; it is just going to be a lot different. I expect to see lots more canning as well.

Good luck and stay healthy out there. Cheers!

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