by Heidi L. Everett
When hospitality establishments were given the green light to reopen Jan. 10, local craft beverage companies had something to showcase.
Bad Habit Brewing Co. and Milk & Honey Ciders in St. Joseph both tapped into their creative sides to connect with customers and keep business afloat during restrictions on indoor dining that derailed bars and restaurants in November and December 2020.
“During the first shutdown last spring, we shifted gears and switched everything to our off-sale crowlers,” said Aaron Rieland, owner of Bad Habit Brewery.
What’s a crowler? A 32-ounce aluminum vessel meant to keep beer fresh until it’s cracked open like a regular beer can and enjoyed.
“We had a good following with those, and that floated us by,” Rieland said.
The business was strictly off-sale for that shutdown, and employees were called in to help label cans, he said. When outdoor service was allowed in the summer, it was a welcome change.
“Having the patio open this summer was awesome,” Rieland said. “We stretched that season out as long as we could, almost to the end of October.”
When rumors of another shutdown became reality, they got creative brewing.
“We definitely stepped up our game with our beers,” Rieland said. “We wanted to keep customers coming back, getting beers out the door and keeping income coming in.”
During the second shutdown in November and December, off-sale at Bad Habit Brewing was doing good enough to encourage support of other local businesses. In partnership with Pantown Brewing Co. in St. Cloud, the two brew houses did a promotion. Anyone who brought in a receipt from a local restaurant got a crowler discount.
“We saw the outpouring of cries for help. This is usually their busy time of year,” Rieland said. “Fortunately, we were still able to do off-sale.”
Bad Habit welcomed patrons back in the tap room Jan. 13 with a capacity of 75 people, socially distanced on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fan favorites are on tap, including Peanut Butter Dark Addiction, an intensely dark, silky smooth chocolatey stout with heaps of creamy peanut butter deliciousness. And there’s Billy Club, an authentically brewed English pub ale with English hops, English maris otter malt and an English ale yeast strain.
Bad Habit is also serving up their Beach Party beers: Changes in Latitude, a lime lager; Boat Drinks, a pina colada IPA; Tres Pepper, a spicy pepper beer and Flip Flops and Drop Tops, a tropical sour. Since they can’t hold their annual Beers and Beaches party this year, they’ve even unveiled a Beers and Beaches Spotify playlist to go along with the brews wherever they are enjoyed. Grab the link off Bad Habit Brewing’s Facebook page @badhabitbeer.
Just outside of town at Milk & Honey Ciders, they’ve introduced some new flavors, too.
Pommeau is crafted in a traditional French style. It blends the juice of Newtown Pippins, Golden Russets and Chestnut crab apples with apple brandy distilled with bourbon and barrel-aged.
Estate was produced using fruit harvested in 2019 from Milk & Honey Ciders’ orchard in Cold Spring. Estate is naturally fermented by the native yeasts found in the orchard.
“We got a chance to go into the cellar to get creative,” said Peter Gillitzer, one of the co-founders.
The shutdowns also caused them to think creatively about their business.
“We were forced to try new things. Some that worked and some that didn’t,” he said.
Offering small tours was a winner.
“It turns out we have a lot of fun talking about cider, not just slinging drinks,” Gillitzer said.
“We also had raging oak campfires,” he said. “Our patrons are just great. They came out whenever they could.”
Offering gift baskets for the holidays was a hit. So was packaging bags of cider.
“It’s like buying a box of wine, but it’s cider,” Gillitzer said. “We’ve learned when we have to hibernate, we buy bulk food and bulk beverage.”
Milk & Honey Ciders reopened its indoor service Jan. 14 with social distancing on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out current hours at milkandhoneyciders.com.