Last November, when we published the 60th article in our Postcards From The Edge series documenting the beer and hospitality industry's experiences through COVID-19, we hoped it would be the last. After all, 60 seemed a nice round number on which to finish, and even Melbourne was open for business again.
We resisted temptation to step back in as the odd snap lockdown appeared, and an idea we put forward to help Victorian venues during their last forced closure was ignored by most we approached, seemingly through a mix of weariness and a hope it wouldn't last long (it didn't). Yet, with most of the country now impacted by a lockdown or restrictions of some form, we are witnessing the most wide scale series of pivots – Yes! Back for 2021, the word that rivalled the phrase "It is what it is" for ubiquity in 2020 – throughout the beer industry.
For the team at Bucketty's Brewing Co in Sydney's Northern Beaches, it's a new experience; the family-run operation only opened in early 2021 so had watched their peers navigate the lockdowns of last year as observers. Clearly, they learned well: within an hour of Sydney's two-week lockdown kicking in last Saturday, they'd repurposed their Brookvale home as a drive-thru.
Guests were out at 6pm, and by 7pm they were taking advantage of the venue's dual street access so customers could now drive in, straight past the bar, fill a growler, and leave on the other side.
"We thrive on adversity and love solving problems creatively," brewery co-founder Nick McDonald says of the turnaround. "We also had ten of our team stay back and get stuck into turning our taproom upside down: pulling out lights, dismantling our stage, moving a one tonne piano, moving a pool table and dismantling the fence."
It's an effort that's been paying off: in the first two days they welcomed 150 cars through the brewery, grabbing beers as well as food from the on-site kitchen.
While this is Bucketty's first lockdown, the team at Willie The Boatman are old hands. No sooner were everyone's worst fears confirmed than Pat McInerney was back in front of the camera touting the brewery's takeaway wares like a TV salesman from a classic 80s flick. If we didn't know the realities better, we'd think Pat thrived in such situations...
"We could see the writing on the wall about a week before the lockdown was announced," he told The Crafty Pint. "I think Blind Freddy could see it to be honest.
"Like last time, we started to slow production down. Tanks that were destined for kegs were redirected to the canning line and we started to really push online sales and 'Click and Collect' bottleshop sales.
"On Saturday, I think the whole of Metro Sydney was quite bummed out knowing what was about to be announced. At 2pm, when the Premier stated the bleeding obvious, it was like someone had rang the school bell.
"Within 15 minutes we went from a deserted tasting room – to a fully packed bar! Seriously, it was like the Pied Piper had hypnotised the entire suburb of St Peters to come into the brewery for their last chance to taste draught beer. To be honest, I was absolutely taken aback by their support and generosity… getting teary just thinking about it."
He says past experience means they have a template to follow, and is confident their relationship with their customers and the wider community will put the brewery in good stead – not that it makes things any easier.
Nick believes there's less fear in the community than in March 2020, with people just wanting it to be over; "Frustration is the overwhelming mood that I see," he says. "We thought we were through the worst of it, only to be thrown back into chaos and financial hardship."
As for Pat, when we got in touch – day two of lockdown – he admitted the mood was "a little low", adding: "It does take a few days for the 'Fight or Flight' instinct to kick in.
"In our part of Sydney the mood is: people are pissed off. Why is this happening again!
"This whole thing has been so poorly managed by the Federal Government. There has been way too many mixed messages, inexcusable bungles at the borders, and in the 'Lucky Country' less than five percent of the population is vaccinated. Jeez, I think our vaccination progress is equivalent to Chad! Anyway…"
And with that he's gone, presumably to shoot another video for socials.
All being well, the current outbreaks will prove to be short-lived so we don't plan on resurrecting the entire Keeping Local Alive resource – not least as the author of this article / founder of the site is in a form of limbo (well, a caravan with his family in William Creek) replanning an already twice-cancelled trip to the NT by the hour – but we do want to help share what businesses are doing to serve the people during lockdown.
If you've set up a drive-thru or home deliveries or similar, feel free to tag @craftypint and #keepinglocalalive on socials and we'll endeavour to share any posts with our followers.
You can find all 60 of last year's Postcards, plus other articles documenting this unique period, here.