Girl Meets Hops Investigates: Working Together Through COVID-19

Girl Meets Hops Investigates: Working Together Through COVID-19

By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator

I took a break from my investigating for “Girl Meets Hops” last month as we all reacted to the current worldwide pandemic. Adjusting to this new normal has been tough to say the least. It’s been a scary and confusing time, and uncharted territory for us all.

Luckily, we do live in 2020 where technology runs rampant and social media in particular has kept us all connected and informed (not to mention as sane as possible). While our taproom doors remain closed, the support we have received online and at our weekly drive-thrus has been astounding. It has proven yet again that humanity unites in the face of adversity in the most creative ways. And to keep spirits high while maintaining a safe and healthy work environment, we at Bale Breaker are also getting creative behind the scenes. For this month, I decided to investigate how Bale Breaker is pivoting to survive and keep that fresh local beer on our grocery shelves (shout out to grocery store workers and deliverers!).

First on deck is our brewing team. Ian, as lead brewer, what changes has your team implemented to ensure a safe and sanitary workspace?

First and foremost, we reduced the total number of brewers on premise at any time, which means more work with fewer hands per shift. But in turn, fewer people in the facility helps mitigate risk of exposure. In addition, we utilize a “floater” for all tasks that are not directly related to wort production and help across departments when needed, as we are all working on skeleton shifts to maintain a safe social distance within the brewery. Masks, gloves, and sanitizer have also become full-time accessories within our team.

Next up, as appropriate in the brewing process, is the cellar. Alex, as Bale Breaker’s cellar manager, what are you and your right-hand man Mike Riley doing to decrease your team’s impact not only on our society’s health but our overall environment?

Just prior to the COVID shutdowns, Mike and I worked hard to reduce cellar water use by 50-75% and CO2 usage by 35% through careful monitoring and procedural changes. This translates to a reduction of 75,000-100,000 gallons of water and a reduction of 80,000lbs of purchased CO2. These measures will help reduce our carbon footprint, reduce our total wastewater output and save the company an estimated $20,000 per year in purchased utility costs. Luckily, we wrapped that project up pre-COVID, because since then, we have also had to limit staff to one cellarhand on duty a day, which makes for long, hard days and little time for side projects.

Then, we have our packaging team. One of the most labor-intensive departments we have on staff right now. Burke, how are you keeping your team safe and healthy during these times as our packaging manager?

Since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, we have seen a drastic change in our day-to-day routines. Due to draft sales going dry, we have had to pivot to meet the demand for can sales. Our packaging team is running lean crews with split shifts to comply with social distancing guidelines, and we pushed 60-barrels worth of fresh Topcutter from kegs into the brite tank that was then repackaged into cans all while on a limited crew. Aging and temperamental canning equipment can lead to long, frustrating days, but we are fortunate to have such a high demand from the market!

Which leads us to our quality team. The scientists behind the beer that make sure we are only pushing out the freshest, highest quality of beer possible. Brian, as quality manager at Bale Breaker, how has COVID-19 impacted your team’s daily responsibilities?

My team is currently maintaining a minimum QC/QA checks to ensure beer quality but had to suspend nonessential research projects to limit workload and reduce time onsite – although we’re still nerding out on beer science at home! In addition, we have relocated key workstations to limit overcrowding in tight lab spaces and encourage social distancing. Furthermore, we have adapted sensory best practices for social distancing and safety and continue to ensure that every beer that leaves the brewery is consistent, true-to-brand, and meets our high-quality standards.

Turning it over to the folks responsible for getting the beer outside of our brewery doors and into your hands is our sales team. Quinn, how are you leading your team to continue to promote Bale Breaker from home?

My team has been attending continuing-education webinars and training sessions regarding sales best-practices in order to further-develop our skillsets and serve our accounts accordingly. We are also maintaining frequent communication with key distributors/account reps to monitor the rate-of-sale of our cans in grocery to ensure the shelves and distributor warehouses don’t run out of stock, while also assessing the number of kegs that are sitting idle in warehouses and working on buy-back options for beer that will go out-of-date during the shutdown. In addition, we are assisting with the analyzation of sales trends and paperwork for fall grocery resets all while staying at home to help flatten the curve.

On to our marketing team, the faces behind the voice of Bale Breaker. Sara, as social media manager and interim marketing manager while Danika is on maternity leave, explain how our team has responded to the current shelter-in-place regulation.

Luckily, most of our jobs can be done from home, so the first thing we did was encourage our team to work from home to lessen the number of employees onsite. Then, we ramped up our external communication to focus on keeping the community safe and informed. We’ve had to find a balance with our tone – our usual fun/lighthearted style has had to shift in these serious times. In addition, we altered our in-person events and proactively canceled our major events through June 2020 to encourage people to stay at home and flatten the curve. We’re also launching multiple community outreach initiatives such as the blood drive/food bank initiative, onsite discounts for healthcare workers and first responders, and the soon-to-be announced We Are Yakima fund benefitting local hospitality employees impacted by the shutdown.

Controlling our bottom line and making sure everyone is getting paid is our accounting department. Erin, how is the accounting team staying above the red line during times like these?

We are hard at work staying informed and up to date on the frequent changes in rules and regulations, applying for necessary loans/grants available to our business during this time, and forecasting/budgeting to ensure we’re making the best decisions for the long-term health of our company with a very uncertain landscape ahead. We do get a break from our excel workbooks every once in a while, when we go down and help with packaging Variety Packs – at a safe 6-foot apart distance, gloved, and masked, of course.

Last but certainly not least are our front-liners at Bale Breaker, the taproom team. Leading our brand ambassadors is Ricky Sanchez, our taproom manager. Ricky, what are you doing to keep your team busy, employed, and ultimately safe?

Since our taproom doors closed, we have continued to service our local customers and move beer through our cooler by implementing and executing successful, safe, and contactless weekly drive-thrus. We have also been brainstorming ways to drive traffic to our drive-thrus with engaging themes, add-ons, discounts and promotions. During the week, we are hard at work getting the taproom in tip-top shape by sanding and repainting outdoor picnic tables and other taproom improvement projects for when the time comes to safely reopen our doors to the public.  

In addition to grocery store workers, deliverers, and the support of our community, I want to thank everyone on the front lines. The healthcare workers, first responders, and food delivery organizations who risk their wellbeing every day to make sure we as a society survive. While we are not on the front lines like you folks, we appreciate our community coming together to keep our beer in demand. We are humbled by your support.

Until next month,

Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column highlighting what really goes on behind the buzz at Bale Breaker


Posted April 24, 2020

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