Written by Gianna Starble
Summer is here. I don’t know where you are in the world, but here in Leavenworth, Washington, people are milling about in short-shorts and Chacos, riding their bikes through the street, and gathering on patios to grab a beer. Unmasked. It’s slightly jarring to see. Considering just a year ago all of us were still fumbling around figuring out how exactly do we exist in a global pandemic.
Covid-19 was a curveball thrown at all of us, and the food and beverage industry clambered to predict its trajectory. As a new taproom employee at Icicle Brewing, I wanted to know: how did our little brewery survive this devastating global pitfall? I wanted to hear from the people behind the scenes—what was this unprecedented moment in history like for the business?
It turns out that in 2019 Icicle Brewing had accomplished some big to-dos on our list. We had finished building an entire downstairs seating area and bar with the hopes of utilizing it as an event space. Even more astounding was the completion of our off-site brewing facility that boasted a brand new state-of-the-art canning line.
“2019 was a year of extreme change and growth. 2020 looked like it was going to be great healing for the company,” says Pam Brulotte, Co-Founder of Icicle Brewing.
Instead, Covid cases started popping up in Washington in February of 2020. With the realization that this virus was indeed going to change our lives as we knew it, by March, the business went into survival mode.
“There was no clear concise path to operating,” says Joel Martinez, CEO of Icicle Brewing, “every day was different. Short-term planning focused on tomorrow and long-term planning focused on the day after that.”
“Everything had to be to-go, which meant it had to be in a package,” says Adam Butler, Wholesale Operations Manager at Icicle Brewing.
Jason Leal, VP of Brewery Operations, reflects on how coincidental it was that the goal of the new facility was to focus more on package distribution. While everyone was expecting more of a slow transition, it turned out to be a jump in the deep end.
“It was really a shove in that direction,” says Jason.
“If we couldn’t can our beer, I don’t know how we would have survived,” Adam added.
It was all hands on deck for the canning production line. There were four people running the whole thing. Jason had a three-day crash course on how to operate the equipment. Head brewers Colin Christianson and Troy Chadd had to be creative and develop new and different types of beer to keep up with the shift in sales. New beers like our Alpenhaze Hazy IPA, Peak Seeker West Coast IPA series, and the Enchantments Hazy IPA series that people now know and love. Despite all odds, even with a can shortage, tasty beer got packaged and was sent out into the world. While distribution was already a big part of the company’s revenue pre-pandemic, accounting for 87% of beer sales, the inability to fully utilize the taproom pushed distribution to 91%.
When Pam reflects on what it was that got Icicle Brewing through the pandemic, she says “I think the driving force was our people. All of our employees. That’s what kept us going.”
Jason and Adam both commented, “Now, we all rely on each other a bit more. It’s more collaborative.”
It can be difficult to see the positive outcomes of such a traumatic time period. As cheesy as it sounds, maybe the silver lining is that through this whirlwind experience Icicle Brewing grew stronger as a unit. We grew closer as we persevered through the unknown.
I know we’re not completely through with the pandemic. And it will be years of processing how Covid-19 altered all aspects of our lives. But for now, here at Icicle Brewing, we can’t help but feel incredibly grateful and the slightest bit relieved. We came out on the other side of this thing fairly unscathed by relying on each other. Beyond our team of employees, it was our growing community of beer drinkers who braved grocery stores to support independent breweries that pulled us through. “Without them, we would not still be here,” said Chris Danforth, VP of Sales & Marketing.
As the summer continues to fly by, feeling a little bit more “normal” than the last, it makes me smile thinking of folks across the Pacific Northwest enjoying our beer. Whether it’s floating down a glacial-fed river with some friends, sitting around a fire on a family camping trip, or perched on the stoop of your buddy’s apartment building; we are coming together and cracking cans of cold beer.
So wherever you are, we hope you’re feeling optimistic too. Because we made it through unprecedented times and came out on the other side stronger and better than ever.
Here’s to a well-deserved summer and delicious craft beer to go with it.