A few days before the city of Phoenix shuttered bars and restaurants for everything but takeout and delivery, Drew Pool felt optimistic. The co-owner of Wren House Brewing Company noted, around when the number of recorded infections in Arizona reached a dozen, that business was “relatively unaffected.”
But that time, just before mid-March, feels like ancient history.
Since then, Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego limited bars and restaurants (to wide industry approval), hoping to curb the virus’s spread. Pool and Wren House were among the leaders who partially closed before the mayor acted. Since then, Wren House has pivoted to takeout and delivery, run in accordance with CDC guidelines. By the first days of spring, with the local and national pictures darkening, business at the brewery had drastically changed.
“We rely on our tap room for sales,” Pool says. “It’s probably 70 percent of our revenue. We expect those margins to run our business.”
Following a complete tap room closure, that 70 percent plummeted to zero. Pool and his team had to act fast. Luckily, they quickly found a solution. “I think the real game changer was doing an online store,” he says. “We literally worked overnight on building out our online store, which was a new business model for us.”
These days, you can order cans of Spellbinder and Jomax online. You can have tall crowlers of double New England IPA delivered to your doorstep.
A digital store gave Wren House an easy avenue for reaching customers — customers who were largely working from home now, idle, and just a few clicks away from some of the very best beer in the Valley. Pool and his crew started delivering cans and crowlers on March 19. “Our overall orders are actually going up,” Pool says. But he is quick to note that, as of now, his sample size is small. “We don’t know if it’s just the first couple days, and then it’s going to slow down.”
Other changes, though, are more certain. For one, Wren House will be tweaking how it approaches brewing.
Restaurants have canceled orders, and kegs are sitting around the brew compound. So Wren will move to more canning, planning double or triple volume canning runs.
Moving forward, beer styles will be a little more streamlined. Wren House and head brewer Preston Thoeny are known for creativity, for peach-infused sours and aged pecan pie wheat wines. Pool says they’re likely to move more in the direction of more stoic low-alcohol beers like lagers. These beers require less grain.
And that’s important, because Pool worries about the virus’ potential to disrupt the brewery’s supply chain. Addressing these fears, he stocked up on inputs. “We bought a whole bunch of hops, grain, and stuff,” he says.
Even so, the beer style changes at Wren House won’t be seismic. Wren House is still doing high-ABV beers like double IPAs. They’ll still be stepping out of the box, even if not into oak barrels for aging pastry-themed imperial stouts. For example, Pool says Wren House has a hefeweizen planned for spring.
At the same time, he notes that a more restrictive lockdown situation as in Italy or New York might complicate business further. “If we go to a lockdown scenario, that might take [away] our ability to be creative,” he says.
But on the whole, the brewery is getting by just fine in the early days of the coronavirus age. Some of the pivots might even be permanent. “We’re super excited with the feedback we’ve gotten so far,” Pool says. “It might change our business moving forward. That remains to be seen.”
Wren House Brewing Company
2125 N. 24th St., Phoenix