Shots shots shots
Pint of beer for a shot
Saturday 31 July 2021
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When Scott Wells, one of the owners of Bolero Snort, learned that a Covid-19 vaccination mega-site had opened up just around the corner from his brewery and tap room in Carlstadt, New Jersey, he got in touch with the powers that be.
“I thought it would be a great idea to have some sort of partnership where we could offer a free beer,” Scott says. “This area was hit very hard last year. I wanted to do my part to encourage people to get shots into their arm.”
He was told that, unfortunately, such a plan wouldn’t be possible thanks to state laws that prevent breweries from discounting beers.
That was back in the winter. Fast forward a few months and Scott noticed that the neighbouring state of Connecticut was operating just the sort of programme he had been imagining for New Jersey. Making use of his position on the board of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, Scott and his fellow New Jersey craft brewers lobbied the governor’s office to bring in a special ruling that would enable anyone showing proof of vaccination during the month of May to claim a free pint at participating breweries.
The Guild doesn’t have figures for how many people came forward to claim free beers under the “Shot and a Beer” programme (Bolero Snort alone gave away just under 100 pints) but Eric Orlando, its executive director, says the programme fulfilled its aims.
“Due to local craft beer’s core demographic – men and women likely between the ages of 25 and 40, sometimes called the ‘invincibles’ – it was a way to incentivise this population who maybe up until this point either thought Covid-19 wouldn’t impact them or they had vaccine hesitancy,” Eric explains.
The people that had never been into the brewery before loved it!
Similar initiatives have been taking place all across the US in recent months, from large-scale state-wide giveaways like the ones in New Jersey and Connecticut, to one-off partnerships that have seen independent breweries hosting vaccination clinics with local health boards and pharmacies.
“Going ‘to the doctor’ can be a very intimidating process,” says Clark Ellis, tap room manager at Weldwerks Brewing in Greeley, Colorado, which partnered with the Weld County Department of Public Health & Environment to host a walk-in vaccination clinic on 22 May. A local neighbourhood brewery like Weldwerks, on the other hand, offers a more familiar, reassuring environment, especially when it also involves someone handing you a free cold beer after you’ve had your jab.
Weldwerks gave each of the 50 or so people vaccinated that day (around double the number usually vaccinated at the County’s walk-in clinics) a free pint, as well as sending them home with a limited edition “I Got Vaccinated” can of IPA. The brewery is hoping to host another walk-in clinic soon.
For Abigail Houts, a physician who works with independent pharmacy St. Paul Corner Drug to run pop-up vaccination clinics all over Saint Paul, Minnesota, brewery tap rooms are an ideal location because they are an inherently social space.
“People love beer, but I also think that for people who have some level of vaccine hesitancy, being in a social environment with friends who are also being vaccinated is probably almost as good of an incentive as a beer token,” she says. It also helps that they’re usually conveniently located.
Jeff Ware, founder of Resurgence Brewing Company, a brewery and tap room in Buffalo, New York, jumped at the chance to host a vaccination clinic when approached by the local health department, keen to do all he could to help hasten a return to normal life.
“We sweetened the incentive with a free beer,” he says. “Beer in general and our experience here at the brewery is about social gathering. If we could do a little part to get people vaccinated so everyone can get back to that, we were happy to help.”
While the idea of combining booze and a medical procedure – albeit a very minor one - might raise eyebrows in some quarters, the medical professionals involved have no concerns on this front.
“We counselled those who tend to have sensitivity to alcohol – people who easily get headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness – not to drink after receiving their vaccination, but most people can tolerate a single drink just fine,” says Abigail. Just as in the UK, people had to wait at least 15 minutes after their shot before leaving the vaccination zone. And anyone wishing to be extra cautious was welcome to take a voucher to use on a return visit to the brewery instead of sinking a cold one right away.
In addition to the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing they’re helping out a good cause, these breweries are seeing other benefits of taking part in such initiatives too. Of the 150 or so people vaccinated at Resurgence, around half were new to the brewery, Jeff thinks.
Can he see them coming back as customers in the future? “Absolutely,” he says. “The people that had never been into the brewery before loved it!”
It’s the same story at Bolero Snort, which launched its production facility and tasting room just two months before the pandemic forced the total shut down of hospitality. Of the vaccinated people claiming free beers that Scott Wells personally chatted to, he says, “several had never even heard of us, so I'd call that a big win for the programme.
“And most others were aware of us and have had our beers or seltzers before but had never visited our brewery and tasting room, which is another huge win for us. We find it's pretty simple to retain customers. But in a crazy economic climate, new customer acquisition is always the biggest struggle.”
The feedback wasn’t all positive. Every brewery I spoke to for this story had received some flack for encouraging people to get vaccinated – whether over social media or, in the case of Lake Monster Brewing, half a dozen “pretty nasty” phone calls. Not that Matthew Zanetti, Lake Monster’s founder, was particularly bothered: “I did not care. Those people are dumb,” he says.
For Scott, any negative response to the “Shot and a Beer” programme was worth it: “We knew going into this that there would be some backlash and we weren't wrong. There are always some people who can't be reached, which is quite sad, but all we could worry about was helping reach the people who want to see this pandemic be referred to in the past tense and not the present.”
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