Bakersfield's microbrewery scene was still in the fermenting stages when COVID-19 hit, and it quickly became clear that adjustments would have to be made fast or a lot of craft beer would go down the drain — and along with it, substantial investment in local commercial brewing.

Until then, breweries' livelihood revolved around supporters crowding in to sample the latest invention. When that stopped, business owners weren't forced to shut down, exactly, but they could no longer make money the way they had.

What happened next speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit that has helped many restaurants, retailers and other local industries survive the crisis: They cooperated, adjusted, made use of available resources and ultimately renewed their focus on customers' thirst for a uniquely tasty beer.

QUICK SHIFT

One example is 2nd Phase Brewing Co., downtown's first brewery in nearly 80 years. It opened less than two months before California imposed a stay-at-home order. Owner Frank "Pancho" Miranda, a former oil field chemist, said things were going well.

He hadn't anticipated the now-urgent need for takeout beer options and had to invest in canning equipment, which of course had become scarce nationwide — not just can-seaming machines but also cans and labels.

Before long Miranda was going to the empty brewery every day, grateful his landlord was giving him a break on rent, and tediously canning beers one at a time.

Eventually, 2nd Phase was able to open his two patios to diners, but only on days he could arrange for a food truck to come by.

Help came from Crusader Brewing, a brewery in southwest Bakersfield, as well as Temblor Brewing Co. on Buck Owens Boulevard, which helped 2nd Phase secure 40 pounds of coconut for a special recipe.

Miranda said support from the brewery's loyal clientele are seeing him through, allowing him to devote attention to new beers and other releases. He also has begun contracting with a mobile canning service.

"We're definitely at a spot where we're not worried about having to shut down," he said.

CURB APPEAL

Crusader Brewing continues to struggle. Its plan when it opened in 2019 was to give customers a kind of European beer experience with Oktoberfest parties and the like.

Amid the pandemic, without enough production to support a canning operation, owners Christopher McEnulty and Bailey Hale said they turned primarily to preorders and curbside sales.

Customers who were initially confused as to whether they were legally permitted to buy from the brewery have since provided the support that has helped keep Crusader afloat.

Just as important, McEnulty and Hale say, have been the federal Paycheck Protection Program and local Kern Recovers government subsidies.

"It's scary. Some days it's like you're watching a dream just disappear," McEnulty said. "It's tough. Just improvise, adapt and overcome."

DISTRIBUTION DEALS

Temblor co-founder and President Don Bynum said his brewery quickly transitioned to canning after its keg sales to restaurants and bars dropped off in March. It put new stickers on cans preprinted for other varieties, a practice that has since become common during the pandemic.

At the end of April, Temblor signed a deal with a Burbank distributor with connections at more than 100 Los Angeles County bottle shops and convenience stores. Before long, Southern California was accounting for 35 percent of the brewery's sales volume.

One of Temblor's beers caught the attention of Knott's Berry Farm. It was a kettle-soured beer with boysenberries, vanilla, lactose and graham crackers — just right for the Orange County theme park.

The brewery also invested in misters and fans to make its outdoor dining service more agreeable in the summer heat.

Bynum said the company has survived with the help of PPP and Kern Recovers loans, together with the support of the Bakersfield community and help from Lengthwise Brewing Co., the dean of local brewers, which could not be reached for comment.

Temblor's focus used to be on booking entertainment and other events at its location, Bynum said. Now it's on brewing "fruit-forward" beers popular with Temblor's fans.

"When all that (on-site sales) got stripped away from us," he said, "we were able to really pour our passion into just the beer."

‘ROLLER COASTER’

Neither has Kern County's most decorated brewery, Kern River Brewing Co., escaped pandemic stresses. Co-founder Rebecca Giddens called the company's experience during the past five months a "roller coaster."

At first everything stopped for about three weeks, she said, and worries arose as to what the company would do with its inventory. A decision was made to pack as much of it as possible into cans.

But cans generally have to be ordered well in advance, and they take up more space than KRBC had planned for, Giddens said. Fortunately, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control loosened regulations to allow breweries' customers to bring in their own takeout containers.

Plus, KRBC expanded into direct online sales, which Giddens said led the company to engage more closely with its fans in Northern California and elsewhere.

"We had to get a little bit creative here but it worked and we didn't have any beer go bad," she said, adding that a boom in outdoor recreation has boosted its patio dining in Kernville.

CUSTOMER SUPPORT

Great Change Brewing, a southwest Bakersfield brewery that opened in late 2018, has been able to avoid layoffs as it pivots to takeout sales, home deliveries and contracted canning, co-owner Kim Belmont said. But it hasn't been easy.

People come to have beer and eat when Great Change lines up a food truck, she said, but it's been tough with the hot weather lately.

Instead of coming up with new brews, the company has focused mainly on the beers it knows its customers love, including pale and blond ales as well as a Belgian-style beer popular in warm temperatures.

Through it all, she said she's thankful customers understand the need to support local breweries during the pandemic.

"We're just very thankful for that," she said.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf

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(1) comment

Boogerface Nutter

I had no idea there are so many breweries in Bako nowdays.

Wish I could do more for them.

Hopefully, we'll all be back to eating and drinking at the faclilties soon, if outside.

Love the cans...Giant 32 ounce Crowlers are really cool.

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