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Millions of gallons of beer stuck in stadiums, concert halls, restaurants and bars are fast going stale, leaving the beer industry with a tricky problem: What to do with all that booze nobody will ever drink?
The coronavirus pandemic forced U.S. bars to close ahead of two of the country’s biggest drinking occasions: St Patrick’s Day and the “March Madness” basketball tournament. Beer intended for those events is now spoiling in locked establishments, and brewers are trying to get it back so kegs can be refilled before lockdowns lift. Executives say draft beer typically stays fresh for between two and six months.
“This was the absolute worst time for this to happen for draft beer,” said Craig Purser, chief executive of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade body. “We have never ever seen an interruption like this where everything freezes in place.”
Many industries are wrestling with similar dilemmas about what to do with their excess supply while the global economy recedes and a deadly virus rages around the world. Cruise ships are stranded at sea without any passengers. Air carriers are looking for places to park all of their idled planes. Commodity traders are searching for floating supertankers to store an overabundance of crude oil.
The virus has been especially disruptive for food and drink makers who have struggled to redirect the nation’s sprawling food supply chain to meet a surge in demand caused by the pandemic. The closure of restaurants, offices and schools across the U.S. has left producers with huge amounts of vegetables and meat to dispose of because those products can’t easily be redirected to retail stores. Farmers are destroying hundreds of acres of vegetables, dumping milk and shrinking chicken flocks—all to curb supplies that could weigh on prices for months to come.
The beer industry’s troubles ramped up in March when roughly 10 million gallons of suds were abandoned in venues that month alone, according to an NBWA estimate. That is the equivalent of almost one million kegs. Even more beer is stuck at distributors’ warehouses, in transit from other countries and in breweries. Unsold and expiring beer could cost the beer industry as much as $1 billion, according to the NBWA.