As companies began telling employees to work from home and local governments started restricting group gatherings, Chad Brodsky knew that his company, City Brew Tours, was going to feel the impact. The company offers what he calls “education-first craft brewery tour experiences” in 11 cities spanning from Portland, Oregon to Washington, D.C. The last in-person tour was on March 15, and like most companies based on bringing people together face-to-face, City Brew Tour’s revenue quickly dropped to zero, Brodsky said.
But by March 25, City Brew Tours was set up to offer an alternative: Events that did not require leaving the house. “The virtual experiences are all brand-new,” Barry Hansen, COO of the company, told Convene. “We had to try something that could transport into people’s homes.”
The approach is different, but Hansen said the company is using a similar philosophy from its in-person events to train guides for these experiences. “With all our tours, we do a shadow process, and we’re using the same model now,” he said. “Everyone has to be a participant before they move from the participant side of the screen to the facilitator side. We need to make sure that the person who is hosting the experience knows how to translate what they do in person to a screen.”
City Brew’s Beer Events at Home — which run on Zoom — include three-hour tutorials for those who want to master the science of home brewing and one-hour beer-and-cheese pairing happy hours for those who are more interested in just that. The home-brew experiences are limited to smaller audiences — since participants must use stoves and follow detailed recipes, a guide needs to monitor their work for safety. On the other hand, the virtual beer-and-cheese pairing experiences feel comfortable with between 30 and 50 people, Brodsky said.
“We don’t make it about the guide pushing knowledge,” he said. “Instead, we want to focus on what they can take away from it.” The goal is to provide “bite-sized pieces of information” about brewing processes and beer profiles, Brodsky said, “that they can easily repeat to impress their friends.”
Convention Industry Connections
Brodsky said that a big portion of the company’s business relies on the meetings and events industry. City Brew Tours provides “no liability” beer-tour experiences that convention organizers can offer to attendees while earning a portion of the revenue. While those meetings and events are not happening now, the company is playing a role in where those gatherings might happen in the future. Brodsky and Hansen are working with Visit Salt Lake to host a beer and cheese happy hour for approximately 25 meeting professionals in April.
“They can’t run their Northeast regional meetings where they would sell clients on coming to Salt Lake in a few years,” Hansen said. “They came to us to help create an experience to connect with them, but they wanted to make sure that their participants didn’t need to do anything in order to enjoy it.”
Some of the company’s virtual events invite participants to purchase their own beer, but the Salt Lake experience will be handled entirely by City Brew Tours. Hansen and Brodsky are coordinating packing and shipping beer, cheese, and Salt Lake souvenirs to the audience. Brodsky added that the company curates chocolates for pairing sessions for lactose-intolerant participants, along with spirits and ciders for groups looking for substitutes for beer.
In addition to Salt Lake City, the company is working with a range of clients — from Fortune 500 companies who want to help employees stay connected to people who want to organize birthday parties with their friends. The company’s in-person events have been halted through April 30, but even after those gatherings return, Brodsky believes that the virtual experiences will play a role in the company’s future.
“We built them so we can continue to do them,” Brodsky said, even after people are not confined to their homes and practicing social distancing. “Many of our guides are at-home brewers, too. And the No. 1 question after an in-person tour is, ‘How do I make my own beer?’ So this is an easy way to provide an answer.”
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the pandemic and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared now and in the future.