By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Brewery Ommegang isn’t going to let a pandemic get in the way of customers enjoying Neon Rainbows – and other popular brews.
“We installed a canning line two years ago,” said Rick DeBar, director of operations at the brewery. “But we’re aiming to double our capacity on the line starting next March.”
The current line can fill five cans at a time; with the addition of a second “filler,” the line will be able to fill 10 cans with the same amount of staffing as the brewery currently has.
It’s part of a larger plan for the brewery to dramatically increase their packaged beer for sale.
“The industry began trending towards cans a couple years ago,” he said. “They’re ideal for when you’re at an event where you can’t take glass, and aluminum is much more recyclable than glass.”
Cans are also easier to ship, he said, and more can be shipped on one truck.
The canned line, which includes Neon Rainbows, Solera, Rosetta and others, had helped keep the brand afloat during the COVID pandemic. “We worked hard to transition
into packaged beer,” said DeBar. “We were told by several of our distributors that we were one of the few suppliers that could keep up with the demand.”
Prior to the pandemic, kegs for bars and restaurants were “50 percent” of their business.
“Every brewery in the world was affected by COVID,” said Matt Szymanski, CFO, Duvel Moortgat USA in Kansas City, Mo. “We were no exception. And our biggest market is New York City, and they were hit so badly. We really got the worst of both worlds.”
According to Jody Zakrevsky, Otsego Now president, the brewery dropped from selling 60,000 barrels a year to 18,000 a year.
“Their biggest issue is with COVID-19,” he said. “They’re not selling enough, because bars and restaurants aren’t ordering beer because they’ve closed.”
On Oct. 18, Zakrevsky got an email from Chance Nicols, CFO at Duvel in Kansas City. The email said the Duvel family, in Belgium, had decided to delay a decision on canning line until 2022.
The larger canning operation would cost an estimated $1 million.
“We were in contact with their Kansas City office, which is their home base (in the U.S.), about three months ago,” he said. “We had a dialogue between them and Empire State Development. My understanding is that the Moortgat family has decided to table the Ommegang canning capital project for 2021 and revisit for 2022.
He continued, “There are too many unknowns at this time with the market so they will manage with the current operational configuration for 2021.”
DeBar said doubling production will work as an “interim,” with the larger expansion down the line.
“We are seeking a grant,” he said.
In the meantime, Szymanski said the company has other priorities to keep them viable.
“Our focus right now is Neon Rainbows,” he said. “We’ve made it for the last two or three years, but it’s always been seasonal – this year, we’re launching it nationwide.”
Neon Lights, a New England session IPA, as well as Neon Neon, a New England Double IPA, are also part of the promoted line, but will remain seasonal. “Right now, our focus is firmly behind Neon Rainbows.”
Additionally, he said the creative team, including Rebecca Shafer, who relocated from the Cooperstown office to Kansas City, will “freshen” the brand of “legacy” beers, including Three Philosophers and Hennepin.