With a full glass of dark beer in front of her on a blue yoga mat, Candice Clemens stretches into a downward dog while giving cheerful encouragement to her “beer and yoga” students.
But instead of having the students around her at the Goat Ridge Brewery in New London, Clemens is alone in the room, with a studio light shining on her and her laptop computer on the table capturing a live broadcast on Facebook.
As more people sign on to the live feed, Clemens says a quick “hi” and continues a smooth delivery of how to do certain poses, which include carefully lifting the glass of beer into high stretches upward – and then to lip-level for a quick sip.
Clemens has been teaching beer yoga at Goat Ridge for five years. Doing a virtual class is a way to keep the “sense of community” alive, she said.
Because COVID-19 has shut down breweries to sit-down service and is requiring people to keep their distance, owners are finding creative ways to connect with their customers.
“Our business model has always been based on community gatherings,” said Josh Reed at Goat Ridge. “That’s been flipped on its head.”
Goat Ridge, along with Foxhole Brewhouse in Willmar and Talking Waters Brewing Company in Montevideo, now offer delivery or pick-up purchases of the homebrews, and are coming up with fun ways to communicate with patrons who are homebound. The Bluenose Gopher Public House taproom in Granite Falls is closed, according to its website.
“Just like the rest of the brewing industry and small businesses in general across Minnesota, we are taking things day by day,” said a post on the Talking Waters website. “We are prepared to get creative and pivot as needed.”
Technology is making it possible for hometown breweries to stay in touch with their customers.
Besides continuing to release new beers, Talking Waters launched an online video series called “Ask the Brewer” and is hosting virtual trivia games to replace the weekly games that are usually held in the taproom. This week 25 trivia questions were released on Wednesday night and answers must be submitted by noon Thursday, with the promise of a $25 gift card and “a bunch of high fives from us as soon as it's safe to partake in such activities” to the winner.
“Every week we’re playing it by ear here,” said John Skoglund in a telephone interview. Skoglund owns Talking Waters with business partners Phil Zachman and Nick Patton.
He said it’s important to “keep in the forefront of people’s minds during this time” and to make it as easy as possible for customers to continue to support the business. “And they’re certainly supporting us, and we appreciate that,” Skoglund said.
Goat Ridge is doing monthly virtual scavenger hunts that get people (safely) exploring their community and there are also weekly virtual bingo games. Every time someone purchases crowlers they get a bingo card and on Friday nights they can log-on to the live Facebook feed to hear the numbers drawn. Prizes include merchandise and gift cards.
Operating with a “bare bones” staff and a new restaurant on hold, Reed said they’ll continue to launch innovative ideas to engage customers and generate revenue. “We’ll ride it out,” said Reed. “We’re figuring it out on the fly.”
Because breweries here typically host live music, area musicians are also feeling the pinch of coronavirus.
Charlie Roth, a popular singer originally from Madison who performs in many local venues as a solo artist and with his band “Ring of Kerry,” said all of his live performances – including a tour in Germany and regular appearances at regional nursing homes – have been cancelled.
To keep in touch with his fan base, and to try to generate some revenue through online tips, Roth last week began performing four songs at 3 p.m. every day during a live Facebook feed from his home.
Called “4songs@3pm Minnesota Time,” Roth – while playing an acoustic guitar – sings a gentle mix of the country, folk, Irish and rock music that’s been the mainstay of his musical career.
“Technology is our friend,” said Roth, who is learning the ropes on how to position his cellphone to capture the daily performance, which lasts about 20 minutes.
His next goal is to use technology to reestablish his musical connection with nursing homes. He envisions iPads being used for one-on-one interactions with nursing home residents so he can sing songs just for them – or with them.
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