Beer today, gone tomorrow?

The Greenfield Recorder, May 6, 2020
Staff Writer

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down taprooms for craft breweries, there’s been a change in how breweries are distributing their beer. Now, craft breweries that didn’t have markets for canned beers in Massachusetts have started selling their beer in the state, including at Cooper’s Corner in Florence where the store’s supply of beer by The Alchemist— a brewery based in Stowe, Vt. — sold out within an hour on March 31.

Mike Brignolo, beer buyer and store manager at Cooper’s Corner, said that after selling out of Alchemist beers such as Heady Topper and Focal Banger (both of which are New England IPAs), Cooper’s Corner started a beer order and curbside pickup system.

“For the first time in our history, we’ve been able to have their beer on our shelf at Cooper’s Corner, which is really exciting for people who would normally drive three hours to Vermont to get their beer,” he explained.

Cooper’s Corner sold about 60 four-packs of Alchemist beer last week — the supply vanished within a single day, Brignolo said.

Cooper’s Corner, which also does curbside pickup for regular groceries, started offering that service for alcohol sales to encourage social distancing after at least 40 additional people purchased the beer in the store around the same time. “It wasn’t because we didn’t want them to come and buy things from our store, but we wanted to keep people safer, both our staff and the other customers,” Brignolo said. “For curbside pickup, we are taking phone calls and email orders basically all day.”

Customers call or email the store, find out what’s available from the list of requested beer, and then schedule a pickup time with store clerks.

Natasha Yakolev, a 49-year-old Florence resident, said she and her family make it a point to stop at The Alchemist during trips to Vermont several times a year. She was glad to find the brewery’s offerings at her hometown grocery store.

She ended up ordering Alchemist beer via email and picked it up at curbside last Friday. She bought a four-pack of Heady Topper and a four-pack of Focal Banger as well as some other beers suggested by Brignolo.

“I really appreciate the effort that Cooper’s and a lot of our other businesses are making to keep their employees and staff safe,” she said. “Being able to go and pick up some items and not leave my car was awesome. I had left a tip in the back of my car for the person who brought the items out, and she said she’d be donating it to cancer research.”

Brignolo singled out Heady Topper, which dates back to 2003, as “a legendary beer that helped start a craft-beer revolution.”

“It’s a very hyped beer,” he added. “People talk about it, and they want to get their hands on it. And it was once in so high demand that there became a black market for the beer. People were buying it and selling it secondhand.”

Brignolo said Cooper’s Corner carries dozens of other craft beers on its shelves that he argues are just as good as Alchemist beers, many of which are locally based, including Honest Weight Artisan Beer in Orange and Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton.

“They’re all to your personal taste, and we try to tell people that as much as possible,” Brignolo said. “This beer gets a perfect rating on a beer rating website like Beer Advocate … but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for you.”

Other out-of-state breweries supplying their beer to Cooper’s Corner include Bissell Brothers Brewing Company in Maine, Hoof Hearted Brewing in Ohio and American Solera in Oklahoma. Brignolo said he’s not sure whether breweries would continue to sell their products to out-of-state markets once taprooms open up after the pandemic.

“Sadly, I don’t have a real answer for that,” he said. “I think it’s because of the fact that they aren’t able to sell the beer in their taprooms right now or they’re not able to sell as much as normal. They’re opening up their distribution and getting it around to more places to stay afloat.”

Cooper’s Corner currently does not have any Alchemist beers available, though Brignolo is waiting on a date for the next shipment.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at c g o u d re a u @g a z e t t e n e t .c o m