James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

Cynosure owner/brewer Clarke Pelz’s Facebook posting on March 14 that he’d closed his tap room as a precautionary measure made me chuckle. When I sat down to write this article last weekend, I envisioned poking fun at all the doomsday hoarders making it difficult for me to wipe my ass because they were hoarding all the toilet paper in town and I couldn’t find any.

I even made up my own meme. Whenever anyone would come to me griping or complaining about something – a physical ailment or otherwise – I’d quip “go to Costco and hoard some toilet paper; everything will be okay.”

I feel bad now. Really bad. I was in denial.

Pelz closed his taproom at the Potter Road brewery on March 14. Pelz wrote “Dear Friends, we will be temporarily closing the tap room effective today, March 14. This was an agonizing decision, but we felt it was a necessary step to minimize the possible transmission of the corona virus, and to protect our customers, our employees and our community. Some may feel we have overreacted, and we hope they are correct. We will continue operations on the brewery side to service outside accounts.”

Pelz went on to add information about his wife who’d traveled to Italy to participate in a cross country ski race that was canceled early on due to the situation over there and had come back and was then on her 10th day of social distancing in a remote location outside of Anchorage. This had nothing to do with his decision to close the taproom, it was another astute preventative measure by Pelz.

“I’m guided by science in the way that I brew and the way we make the beer here,” said Pelz during my interview with him that weekend. “Don’t take your medical advice from a brewer, but the science and the math of virus transmission are well understood, and the sooner we start slowing the rate of transmission of the virus the better off we’re going to be as a community.

It seemed prudent to remove the source of cross contamination by customers so we can get through this as soon as possible and get back to the regular way of selling beer.”

It’s not that we didn’t already basically know this, but Pelz was very, very serious about it, and his decision came three days before the municipality made the same decision for every other brewery in Anchorage and before the decision on Tuesday by the state to take the same social distancing precautionary measures affecting the rest of the breweries up here.

Not in reaction to the muni’s decision, but leadership at the company I work for had previously enacted its own social distancing program as part of our response plan. We’d already been working from home, but our corporate office was closed indefinitely on Tuesday. We’re all working from home now.

The Monday announcement hit me like a ton of bricks. I did a little bit of reverse hoarding that night by drinking a little too much from my vintage collection in the cellar, and the Tuesday closure of my office brought it all home. Wednesday’s announcement further underscores the seriousness of the coronavirus spread. I’m not hoarding toilet paper yet, but I’m re-thinking how I drink beer going forward.

Let’s talk about it. First of all, from a pure health standpoint, can I get the virus from drinking beer? Using the simple protocols suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and our own Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) makes the risk for beer lovers very low, if not nonexistent. This is just my opinion.

Pelz is no epidemiologist, but tends to agree. “It’s not going to happen. Beer is safe. Glasses and bottles can be dirty but the beer itself is safe,” he says.

I know from my homebrewing days and studying through the Beer Judge Certification Program that pathogens don’t survive in beer. This is why when the water was bad in Europe in medieval times, beer was a safer drink. It’s also why beer was a standard ration on early ocean voyages. Water went bad, but beer held up. I feel entirely safe drinking the beer I buy from both breweries and liquor stores.

COVID-19 is a hard-surface resistant virus meaning that the infection can hang out on hard surfaces like beer bottles and other containers longer than other strains of the same coronavirus have been known to. Want to be safe? It’s simple. Do what the CDC and DHSS recommend. Bring your containers of beer — growlers, cans and bottles – home from wherever you’re getting them and disinfect them before you open them, then pour them into your own disinfected glassware. Then, continue to enjoy your craft beer as you always have.

My worry’s now shifted from my own self-preservation to worrying about my beloved 40-plus local Alaska breweries that will struggle as a result of municipal and state actions designed to protect consumers from themselves despite excellent preventative measures already in effect by the breweries.

Taproom sales can add significantly to a brewery’s revenue stream but they’re critically important to smaller, geocentric breweries that don’t distribute their beer and depend on on-site consumption and over the counter and off sales to fund their operations and pay their employees.

I talked to Amber Jackson of Onsite Brewing Company just after the announcement on Monday. Onsite is one of Alaska’s newest, and smallest breweries. “We’re talking about it today,” she says. “We’re taking it as we go. We only do one barrel batches,” she commented about her brewery’s size. Hopefully off-site sales will be sustaining.

The prohibition has much larger impact because even our distributing breweries depend on demand from the same restaurants and bars that have had access limited. The downstream effect of Monday’s municipal action and the state’s on Wednesday is crippling for all of our breweries.

Now is the time more than ever to support local craft brewing no matter where you live and where you go in Alaska. How?

Most breweries still offer over the counter off-sale of growlers, kegs, cans, crowlers and bottles as is applicable for each brewery’s packaging capability. Exert the extra effort to stop in buy up, even if you can’t sit in the taproom with a friend, and go home and enjoy it or take it to a friend to share.

Leave the mainstream shit on the shelves at the liquor store, and by that I mean pass up the mass produced suds that come from outside. I’m not going to say let them fend for themselves, but we’ve got our own breweries to support.

Buy food to go from our local brewpubs; help keep them afloat too.

And for all beer venues – breweries, bars and brewpubs – buying gift cards is a way to pay forward and infuse an establishment with cash, even though it’s a loan of sorts, during these trying times.

I hate to use the cliché, but this too shall pass. Until then do your part to keep craft brewing alive in Alaska.

I salute Clarke Pelz at Cynosure Brewing for being ahead of the precautionary pack. “We didn’t feel we could make the environment safe enough for our customers. There are a lot of surfaces that are touched by multiple people and I didn’t think we could keep ahead of it. All of us breweries are going to be in the same situation pretty quick here; we’re just ahead of the curve.” Cheers to you, Clarke; my first post-distancing beer when tap rooms open again will be at your brewery.

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