On March 17th, 2020 we had to close down the taps. We cleaned and flushed the lines and then filled them with citric acid to sit until we could serve again. No more pouring tasty brews for the masses. No more taproom events and tastings. We scrambled to add packaged beer to our website and offered curbside pickup as well as local delivery. It kept us going, but we were really missing taproom interactions. We had to find away to stay connected to our regulars and the tourists who wouldn’t be able to travel for a little while. That’s when we decided to host virtual events that allowed us to keep those conversations going.
Obviously, one of the things I love most about the craft beer scene is the people. Not just those in the industry, but the imbibers as well. These are the people who help create that special atmosphere. So when Covid closed the taproom down, we had to shift gears quickly to stay afloat. We did just that. During times of everyone stuck at home, we became determined to stay connected to the clientele who had been supporting our business and the business of beer as a whole. Bryson City Outdoors started hosting virtual beer tastings and also started “Pints on the Porch with our Peeps”. This was a live show that consisted of various employees of BCO sitting on our own porches talking about gear, books, movies, pizza, cereal, and all things beer. What we didn’t talk about was COVID. It was an effort to keep spirits high in uncertain times. It seemed to work for us and them! Our regular customers would tune in, beer in hand, almost like we were enjoying beverages together in the taproom. After all, interactions were what we were all missing and what we all needed. They’d ask questions and we would answer. They would tell us jokes and we would enjoy a good laugh or share jokes ourselves. The viewers really kept the show going. A majority of the people watching were folks we knew, but many were people stuck at home in other states and countries missing out on their regular vacations. Our town is a tourist destination and our social media had already been a way for people to plan, reminisce, and stay connected to a place they loved during past summer and fall trips. They showed up and showed their support even in strange times.
The virtual beer tastings, which are still taking place, happen from my porch or living room and are broadcast via Facebook Live. I put together curated bags of beer that our patrons can pick up from the shop ahead of time. I absolutely love doing the work that goes into preparing for these tastings. I read about the history of the brewery itself, look up the brewers and their brewing history, and learn more about individual beer styles. Finding new favorites for myself while helping others branch out and try new things has been a highlight for me. During the tastings I learn what my regulars like, what they don’t like, and sometimes they provide me with just a little more insight into the world of beer drinkers from their side of the bar. I have also learned a lot about my own palate and how it is ever evolving.
Sometimes the beers for the tastings are chosen by style, sometimes holiday or season, sometimes city or state. Other times they are just fun themes like seasonal brews, day drinking, breakfast and brunch brews, or just an assortment of beers that are new to the taproom’s shelves. I’ve even hosted a few that contained gluten-free options like craft ciders and seltzers which have really grown in popularity. During “Sober October” and “Dry January”, we sampled some craft non-alcoholic brews to keep everyone in the loop. In the craft beer scene there really is something for everyone and I love helping others find their “something”. While some tastings are more fun and less informative, I do always try to provide enough beer education for the viewers to walk away with a little more confidence in trying new things. I also strive to encourage people to go out and show support for their small, local breweries.
My next tasting will be Thursday, February 10th at 7pm. You can find the event on the Bryson City Outdoors facebook page. This tasting will be a beer and chocolate pairing just in time for Valentine’s Day. Bags are available to pick up in person at the taproom and are only $18. Can’t pick up a bag? That’s ok! Feel free to watch and chime in anyway.
Thanks to everyone who has been participating in these tastings for the last two years. Your support has really helped make the most of these uncertain times. It’s nice to have a place to continue doing what I love.
**Parts of this post are excerpts from my upcoming book about beer. Stay tuned here or follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates.**