In the third edition of Beer & Loathing, I talked to brewer/founder Michael Clements of Idiom Brewing Company about how the pandemic affected the Carroll Creek brewery. The popular brewery on the east side of Frederick recently expanded their tasting room to accommodate growing tasting room crowds, both in the tasting room, and on the patio. As Clements put it, the quarantine order “was a swift end to what was becoming a common occurrence – a full house inside and out, even during the colder months – at the brewery each night.”
The sudden shift in business dynamic was something Clements expected as he watched how the virus was affecting other countries. “We had been preparing to go to a curbside only model as the pandemic was unfolding,” explained Clements. “ We had some inside track on…information that the State was going to allow breweries, wineries, and distilleries to remain open. We also had approached the Frederick County liquor board about delivering beer, ahead of the Governor’s mandate and were provisionally approved to start delivering a couple of days ahead of that announcement. We were already leveraging our own online store for curbside, so we made the appropriate changes to it to allow deliveries in Frederick and Montgomery Counties. We were one of the first breweries to adopt BierMi, as well – much love and thanks to the team at True Respite for moving very quickly to make that available to everyone.”
While it almost seems inopportune that the tasting room was expanded just ahead of the quarantine order, Clements serendipitously added a canning line within the last year – installing it in April of 2019. “”We’ve been canning since Summer of 2019,” he said. “We bought our own canning line in April of that year, but used Iron Heart [mobile canning] until we received training and had all of our utilities available to support the line. As such, we were already doing a fair number of [can] drops in between maintaining our taps in the taproom.
“Unfortunately, right before the pandemic, we ran into a mechanical issue with our canning line, on which we were unable to get support from the manufacturer. [We ended up sending] the line back to them and ordered an upgraded line from Alpha BrewOps which was delivered [last month]. We are testing out the line and validating all of it’s parameters and hope to put it into use by the end of May. We have been leaning on Iron Heart for bi-weekly canning runs, in the meantime, and have been releasing three to four beers at a time, which has been received very well throughout [both county and] state.”
While many breweries have had difficulties sourcing the 32 ounce crowlers, and even the 64 ounce glass growlers, the standard 16 oz can hasn’t been a problem at all, said Clements. “they produce enough 16 oz cans between all of the different manufacturers to support the need for 16 oz cans, currently. However, we are keeping a close eye on this commodity to ensure we stay ahead of the situation and order more than we need each order, to keep a small stockpile.”
Scarcity has only been an issue in regards to crowler supply, said Clements. “They are unavailable, or backordered everywhere. Current timeframes for replenishment are 4-6 weeks from order. Ball, the manufacturer, only produces these a few times a year, although I was told they [increased] their production this time around due to the pandemic, to help ensure a more steady supply. We shall see…”
The crowler shortage is just one of a couple of issues that Clements has avoided in this quarantine world we now live in. Many breweries have cut back on staff – laying off tasting room personnel, and sometimes even cellarmen. At the time of press, not only had Clements not laid off any of his staff, he was looking for additional staff for the brewhouse. “We are constantly cross-training staff. We keep them busy with deliveries, filling orders, helping on canning days and other odds and ends that need to be done around the brewery. A few of them have shown an interest in the brewery side of the house, too. We are still looking for an additional assistant brewer to augment our staff, allowing us to move into a shift brewing mentality, considering we now have six 7BBL and five 1 BBL unitanks on site, and we will be leveraging canning for a considerable [portion] of those brands.”
As Idiom navigates the pandemic, Clements is already looking to the future, exploring ways to increase the brewery’s presence, whether expanding the tasting room, or formulating new recipes to increase the brewery’s customer base. “We just acquired some additional space, upstairs, for private events and we are always keeping our eye open for additional production space to allow us to pursue a larger brewhouse and additional distribution throughout Maryland.”