by Kevin M. Smith
In the latest edition of Beer & Loathing, Frederick Behind Bars talked to Brian Ogden of Attaboy Beer. Ogden, the brewer and co-founder, with his wife, Carly, was candid about how the brewery, and the recently opened Attaboy Barrel House, were affected by the shutdown, and how they are approaching the re-opening of businesses.
For those of you who missed it, the Attaboy Barrel House opened around the corner from Attaboy and Smoketown Creekside at the end of November. The barrel-aging facility, complete with its own tasting room, and only serving on Saturdays, opened less than four months before the stay-at-home order. The result of the quarantine on the new facility, said Ogden, is that “the Barrel House… is well… closed. We are selling Barrel House bottles out of Attaboy and are actually surprised each week that we are selling as much as we are. But from a revenue standpoint, the bottles just don’t cover the bills. It’s expensive beer to make. Expensive to buy. You could actually make a case that closing the Barrel House taproom had an even bigger impact because of the nature of the beers there. They cover a very different spectrum of flavors that are new to most people. Beers like this can be a big bet at $17 per bottle, but much less of a risk at $3 per taster in the taproom. [The] silver lining to this whole thing is that we have been able to catch up production wise on filling barrels. Right before the shutdown we had been getting way too close to running out of conditioned beer.”
While the quarantine resulted in the current closure of the Barrel House taproom, Attaboy has been able to re-open their main taproom, with social distancing measures in place. But before that, the Ogdens, like the other breweries around Frederick, had to execute a serious shift in their business dynamic in order to survive the quarantine. “We had to pivot and we quickly spent a boat load on crowlers so we weren’t short and we scheduled some canning runs,” explained Brian. “We’ve had to pivot very quickly. Just like everyone else. But most importantly we feel incredibly lucky that people keep showing up to buy beer. Sales sure do come slowly when you are staring at an empty taproom, but yeah, we just keep opening our doors and are amazed by the community support.”
For the duration of quarantine the brewery, and its owners dealt with all the changes that Covid-19 brought with it. “It’s been rough but we’re surviving,” said Brian. “Again, we continue to feel incredibly lucky that we could sell curbside and people keep buying our beer. We’ve had to do a lot more brewing to make less money. Carly has mostly been working from home with the kids, getting up early to apply for all the loans. Each week has its ups and downs. It’s certainly given us a great appreciation for their little school and made us realize how much we relied on grandparents. It’s also made us realize that we didn’t actually do that many large social gatherings before this – just brewery, backyard, bike rides, beer, repeat. We’ve now added in throwing rocks in streams. Small price to pay to ensure our parents stay safe.”
With the shift to curbside, like many other places, Attaboy shifted their packaging, canning and bottling more of their product. However, in the wake of their investment in the Barrel House last year, their approach to big changes this year is a bit more deliberate. While they chose canning, they have chosen not to. “For now, we are going to hold tight and just have a mobile canner come in. We made some big bets last year. Thinking we make smaller bets this year.”
At the end of quarantine, and the beginning of Phase 1 of re-opening, when the governor announced that restaurants, breweries, and the like could open patios, it signalled a new day for restaurants, breweries, and the like. It was also a new day for their customers. Even so, Attaboy approached it cautiously, and didn’t open immediately, approaching re-opening in a circumspect manner. Even though they approached it cautiously, they were thrilled to be open again. “It was good to be back,” said Ogden. “And we had great weather the first weekend! It was nice to feel slightly normal again. Our delay was two fold,” he went on to explain. “Yes, we needed to get things together on our side. Carly had been at home and we’d been closed for roughly two months. We needed to clean up the place and get the beer garden looking good, and then secondly get in all of the signage and process in order based on the new guidelines. We are taking the precautions seriously but we don’t think we are doing anything more special than others. We just weren’t ready. You know, you got to move the laundry off the bed and change the sheets in the guest room before you can have guests over!”
As the brewery adjusts to the new social distancing orders, Brian and Carly are finding ways to deal with a formality that has been uncommon to brewery people, and tasting rooms in general. “It is different,” he said. “We are super informal people so having people wait to be seated is weird. But we’re getting the hang of it. Our team is HUSTLING for sure. It’s a lot of extra little items and so far customers have been helpful, patient and courteous. We are thankful for that.”
For the time being, the plan is for cans – the brewery had a release on June 11, and more are coming, according to the Ogdens. Brian said, they’re “Putting some of our faves in cans. You can expect to see us can more for the foreseeable future. That’s this week’s plan, [but] we’re always changing. And at the Barrel House we’re excited to open up with new aged beers whenever we get the green light.”
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