Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic forced owner Michael Memsic to shutter Sanitas Brewing Co. for everything but takeout and delivery, he turned his van into a roving beer truck of sorts, selling bombers, crowlers, and six packs in Boulder neighborhoods.
He was sure that the vehicle, complete with ice-cream-truck-style music to attract customers, was legal. “I viewed it as a survival technique,” says Memsic. “We are losing up to 80 percent of our taproom revenue. We are trying to be creative and come up with whatever we can to make beer, pay bills, pay salaries, and move forward.”
The good times rolled for more than a month before skidding to a stop in mid-May, when the Colorado Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement division shut down the brewery’s van. Memsic says the problem was that drivers were leaving the warehouse and brewery with non-invoiced product, which is illegal. “If you have 50 cases of beer in your van, you need invoices for 50 cases of beer. I was aware of the law but assumed it wouldn’t be enforced during the crisis,” he says.
Other states, meanwhile, allow similar roving beer vehicles, so Memsic hopes the state’s division will reconsider the rule. It could make a big impact if it did; when Memsic launched the truck, he anticipated it would add a little to the brewery’s bottom line and help with marketing. But at the rate the van’s popularity was expanding, Memsic says it was on track to deliver between $15,000 and $20,000 each month in revenue.
Numbers like that are huge for a brewery like Sanitas, which, like many other small breweries across Colorado, is barely staying in business. Sure, liquor store sales matter for these breweries, but the margins are very thin—pennies on the dollar for each beer sold in a six pack, versus far more for a pint served cold at the brewery or at a restaurant bar.
Which is why Memsic is excited to turn on Sanitas’ taps this weekend, following Governor Polis’ updated safer-at-home order permitting restaurants and breweries that serve food (including bites from food trucks) to reopen to in-person dining. To prepare, he is dramatically expanding outdoor seating behind the Boulder brewery to offset the state’s 50-person capacity restriction.
The existing Sanitas patio fronts a greenbelt beside railroad tracks, and since Sanitas has rights to the greenbelt, Memsic plans to place picnic tables across it so his customers can simultaneously enjoy robust social distancing and brewpub pints. No van required.
3550 Frontier Ave., Unit A, Boulder