Citizen Brewers, a “brew-on-premises” business in Grantville, used to rely on groups like friends and co-workers brewing and bottling custom fifty-liter beer batches to pay the bills. When it comes to brewery operations, owner Judd McGhee is a one-man show, other than the occasional helping hand.
By the middle of June, McGhee had started to get a feel for his new operating procedures — including “COVID cleaning” after small-group brews — that added an extra hour to each day.
When reached on June 26, McGhee was keeping his fingers crossed that he wouldn’t have to close again. But three days later the reinstatement of California’s stage 2 restrictions, which required a meal with each alcohol transaction, threw another wrench in the gears.
“If I have six guys in to brew a beer, why would I bring in a food truck for just six plates?” McGhee asked rhetorically. “It doesn’t make sense for me or for them.”
Soon, McGhee will likely have no choice but to go back to brewing by himself because of further restrictions, so he’ll pivot to selling bottles to-go.
Like many brewery owners in this climate, he vacillates between hopefulness and helplessness.
“This situation presented me with opportunities I hadn’t capitalized on before, like working with the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) to sell bottles to-go,” he said at one point, but later admitted, “It’s hard to wake up every day and champion it when all these walls get put up. And the margins are so thin anyways; I’m just trying to get through this and keep the door open.”
McGhee says that he’s lucky that he can diversify his already unique model enough to keep the lights on, mentioning a series of collaborations in the works with previous neighbor Kensington Brewing, who moved to Adams Avenue. McGhee bought two of their small stainless fermenters, and because Kensington now has a food license, they can put on Citizen Brewers beers as guest taps.
Ultimately, McGhee is optimistic about what will come from all this. “People are so tenacious, and radical,” he opined. “They’ll end up doing amazing things.”