Kelly Withers thinks it might be easier right now – in the middle of a pandemic – to get her favorite Maine beers.

That’s because many local breweries are offering curbside pick-up or delivery, things they weren’t doing before. So instead of having to battle the crowds at a tasting room, Withers now places her order at her favorite local brewery, then drives up and drives away with beer. In the past couple of months she’s sampled drive-up services at Bissell Brothers Brewing, Definitive Brewing Company, Goodfire Brewing and Austin Street Brewery in Portland, plus Mast Landing Brewing in Westbrook.

“It’s been much easier to get beer this way. You don’t have to fight a summertime crowd of people from out of state,” said Withers, 46, of South Portland. “I’m a big supporter of local beer, and I’m so glad they’ve made it so easy for me.”

At least 80 Maine breweries are offering curbside pick-up or some beer to-go option, said Sean Sullivan, Executive Director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. At least 40 Maine breweries are doing delivery, either with their own employees or through CarHop, a Maine-based beer, wine and spirits delivery service that began operating last year. Some are doing both.

Adam Doering of Lone Pine Brewing brings an order out to a customer. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Curbside pickup and delivery has allowed some breweries to keep staff working, and also allows each brewery’s loyal following to get the beer they crave, Sullivan said. It’s especially important for smaller brewers who don’t distribute to a lot of stores, and depend on people coming to their brewery and tasting room. Plus, driving up to a brewery and having someone pop a case in your trunk, or having a case of IPA delivered to your door is much easier and less stressful than a trip to the market these days.

Curbside pickup and delivery services have helped brewers during  a tough time, but have not made up for the loss in sales during the pandemic, Sullivan said. He surveyed more than 50 Maine brewers in April and found that on average their sales were down about 50 percent, and about 23 percent at some point had stopped beer production altogether because of the crisis. The brewers’ guild represents more than 150 breweries in Maine.

Though curbside pick-up and delivery were forced upon brewers by the pandemic, many have discovered how much customers like these services and may keep the systems in place for the foreseeable future. Sullivan surveyed more than 70 breweries about these services and found that 35 percent were interested in keeping some sort of curbside pickup available even after their tasting rooms re-open, while more than 21 percent said they’d be interested in continuing delivery.

Just when tasting rooms will re-open is unclear. Tasting rooms were not specifically mentioned in Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to re-open the state economy in stages, but Sullivan at the Maine Brewers’ Guild said that under current state guidelines most tasting rooms probably won’t be allowed to open until July 1, when bars also may open. But even after tasting rooms can open, brewers say they’ll likely offer curbside pickup, delivery and other services that make their customers comfortable.

“We are definitely planning to continue to doing some sort of curbside pickup because we really don’t know what customer behavior will be once tasting rooms re-open and restrictions are lifted,” said Tom Madden, co-founder of Lone Pine Brewing Company in Portland and Gorham. “We know people appreciate having this service. We’re really taking it day by day.”

Ellie Yahn of Lone Pine Brewing thanks customers after bringing them their curbside delivery order. (But is the dog old enough to drink?) Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

HOW IT WORKS

Delivery and curbside pickup differ from place to place. Get the specifics on the website of your favorite ones. Or go to the website of the Maine Brewers’ Guild, which lists what member brewers are doing, what days they offer these services, and how to place orders.

Orders of beer ready for pickup or curbside delivery at Lone Pine Brewing in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For curbside pickup, some places require you to order ahead, and assign you a specific time and day to pick up your beer. Others allow customers to drive up, get out, and order their beer right there and then at an outdoor area. At Lone Pine in Portland, people are asked to wait 30 minutes before driving in for an order. Customers can stay in their cars, show their ID through the window, and pop the trunk or hatch for staff to put the beer in. Baxter Brewing in Lewiston allows customers to schedule a next-day or same-day pickup, and asks that they call the brewery when they arrive, so that staff can load beer into their trunks, said Jenn Lever, company president. Allagash Brewing Company in Portland will also have staff put beer right in the trunk, said Jill Perry, senior manager of retail of operations.

For Sarah Millington of Standish, the couple trips she’s made to Lone Pine to pick up her favorite beer have been welcome respites from isolation. She said she chats with staff about their new brews, or asks them to make recommendations.

“So I still get some of the experience I would normally get at Lone Pine, and I’m glad for that,” said Millington, 36.

Lever, at Baxter, says offering curbside pickup has been important for her business because it provides work for the staff, and it’s also continued, or perhaps even improved, relationships with customers. As Baxter is distributed all over New England, brewery staff don’t usually get the kind of personal interactions with beer drinkers as they’re getting now, she said.

On the delivery side, methods vary even more, with some breweries requiring a minimum amount of beer or minimum total price. Bissell Brothers requires at least four 4-packs for delivery, while Definitive has a $30 minimum order for Portland and Westbrook and $60 for other locations. Baxter has a $75 minimum for orders, but delivers all over southern Maine. On Thursdays, for instance, they deliver from Portland to York, on Wednesdays in the Lakes Region, on Tuesdays north of Portland and into Oxford County. Some breweries charge delivery fees, typically $6 to $8, and some will deliver only to their immediate areas.

CarHop charges a flat fee of $7.99 within 7 miles of the brewery, and more for additional miles, Thomas Brems, president of CarHop, said, but lets you order as much or as little as you like, and most deliveries can be made within 30 to 60 minutes. The prices for the beer are the same as the brewery charges, he said. CarHop has been increasing its Maine brewery offerings, and will be up to about 40 in a week or two, Brems said.

Brems said he’s been hiring more drivers during the pandemic, because more people are using the service, and he’s now up to about 20. Drivers leave the beer at your door, and check IDs through windows. Carhop also delivers wine and spirits. Drizly, a Boston-based alcohol delivery service that started operating in Maine in 2016, is also delivering beer in the state, but not directly from breweries.

Whether customers continue to use beer delivery once current restrictions are eased is tough to predict, brewers say. But many think curbside pickup and other ways to get beer without entering a tasting room will continue to be popular for some time.

“I think we’ll continue curbside as long as it makes sense and helps customers feel comfortable,” said Perry, at Allagash.

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