What Happens to the Stale Beer Unused During Quarantine?
Sycamore Brewing repurposes stale brew into hand sanitizer and small batch spirits
When Charlotte restaurants and bars halted service during the government-mandated shutdown in late March, beer kegs sat in walk-in coolers and grew stale. As the city entered Phase 2 of reopening, Sycamore Brewing launched a “Freshness” campaign, delivering new kegs to their distributor partners and reclaiming the less-than-fresh ones at no charge.
The move came at a five-figure expense to Sycamore, but owners Justin and Sarah Brigham did this for a few reasons. “We’ve always promised our drinkers that Sycamore beer is super fresh, and we damn sure intend to keep that promise now,” Justin says. “Beer has a longer shelf life than dairy, but the exciting fruity notes start to dull over time. There’s a muting of the flavors we work so hard to put together.”
Now they plan to work with local distilleries to repurpose the unused beer. “Our beer is a great base to turn into hand sanitizer, and it’s viable as a spirit,” Justin explains. “We’re working with Unknown Brewing, and our hope is they can take some of this beer and turn it into sanitizer and distribute it to local fire departments and medical services.” (Depending on the alcohol content, it takes roughly 100 gallons of beer to produce five gallons of hand sanitizer.)
They’ve also reached out to a few local distilleries including Doc Porter’s to convert the unused beer into a small batch spirit, which they’ll barrel age and release in a few years.
As they reopen their South End taproom, Justin says construction is still a go on Sycamore’s new 16-story tower next door, and they haven’t furloughed any of their 36 full time employees. He estimates the online delivery service they launched in April helped recoup 25 percent of their losses. “As a distribution brewery, we’re doing well,” he says. “It’s the first time we’ve faced stale beers, but we’re doubling down. If we’ve got the means to do a campaign like this, it’s something we have to do.”