Estrella Damm, Mahou and San Miguel are amongst the world’s top beer brands, but how have smaller Spanish breweries managed to survive lockdown and restrictions? Let’s take a look at how a start-up brewery adapted to stay in business.
Author: Malin Norman
The whole beer industry has been affected by the pandemic and so also in Spain. Whilst the recent Brand Finance Beers 50 ranking shows that the major Spanish beer brands Estrella Damm, Mahou and San Miguel are amongst the top 50 in the world, smaller breweries have struggled and had to adapt a flexible and innovative approach to survive.
For a small-business perspective, I had a chat with Sebastian Barcelo at Adalt Brewing in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. He set up the brewery and taproom with homebrewing friends Guillermo Blasco and Alberto Camina in October 2019, of course not knowing that a global pandemic would hit during their first year of business.
How did you manage to stay in business last year?
We opened our microbrewery and taproom in October 2019 and in March last year, Spain went into full lockdown. It was a strange experience, and we could only do our best to try and adapt to the situation as we didn’t even know how things were supposed to be during normal circumstances.
Two weeks before everything closed, we received our semi-automatic canning line and this was a saviour as we could start doing home deliveries. There was a high demand for beer over here, as people were drinking and eating a lot, especially during the first months in confinement. We didn’t even have labels for the at first and received orders via multiple channels, but eventually we become more organised and also set up a platform for buying our beers online.
Did you have to change your concept at all?
Initially, we were focused on beer only but soon realised that the locals also want food when they visit. In the first few months of business, we collaborated with pop-up restaurants and people could order take-aways to the taproom, but they were too shy to bring food from outside.
When we were allowed to open the taproom and patio again after lockdown, we changed our offer slightly. We started collaborating with a great pizza place across the street, our customers can order and pay for their pizza with us, and we take care of the pick-up and delivery to their table. It works really well – actually it’s been much more successful than we thought!
Also, the type of beer that people want has changed since we started, either because the customer base is different or perhaps they just want to try other styles. In the beginning, we were brewing a lot of pilsner and pale ale but now our most popular beers are IPA and NEIPA. We have four beers on tap and also a few different ones in cans, so there’s usually up to eight styles to choose from.
What are your thoughts or plans for the future?
Actually, we still don’t know what makes a good year in terms of brewing, as the pandemic and lockdown happened so soon after we started. We have just ordered a fourth fermenter, to keep up with demand, but our goal is the same as in the beginning; to brew better beer, to match demand with production, and to collaborate with local businesses, musicians and artists, and other breweries.
Photos: Adalt Brewing