Published April 6, 2020

Nearly every craft maltster has been impacted in some form or another by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, according to the results of an industry survey conducted by the Craft Maltsters Guild in late March. On March 19th, the federal government classified craft malthouses, which are part of the food and agriculture production system, as ‘critical infrastructure’ amid the pandemic.

The non-profit trade organization represents the interests of small-batch, independent maltsters across North America and beyond. The Guild shared the survey results Friday, April 3. 33 craft maltsters responded to the survey. The results showed, like their brewery and distillery customers, the craft malthouses who responded were also experiencing unprecedented economic hardships.

“Slower beer sales, canceled events, and closed taprooms are having ripple effects on the rest of the supply chain,” says Jesse Bussard, Guild Executive Director. “The rapid closing or restriction of breweries and distilleries pivoting to produce hand sanitizer have drastically reduced sales of craft malt, as well as slowed production at many malthouses.”

The survey showed 88% of craft maltsters said COVID-19 has already impacted them through reduced sales; another 48% experienced canceled events. 54% had slowed production in response to the virus and another 18% had stopped production entirely. Approximately 16% said they were officially closed or considering closing over the next two weeks. Just 6% of craft malthouses said they had not been impacted.

“From one week to the next orders dropped by over 75%,” noted Ron Silberstein, co-founder of Admiral Maltings in Alameda, CA.  “The brewers that continue to package and the distillers that continue to put spirits into barrels give us a glimmer of hope in the short term and in the long term we feel business will return.  In the meanwhile, we are taking advantage of every federal, state, and local program that can be of help.”

Remarkably, craft malthouses have proven a more stable environment for employees, as only 9% of malthouses surveyed had laid-off employees. Another 42% of craft maltsters said they had already reduced staff hours.  This stability may be temporary as the situation evolves, but if it remains steady it would provide displaced workers in the industry opportunities for employment.

“Operationally we are running very lean with operators,” said Ben Harvey, head maltster at New York-based 1886 Malt House. “We were in the process of hiring when this hit and quickly brought that to a halt which actually may have been a blessing in disguise. Because of that, we haven’t had to lay anyone off to this point.”

The goal of the survey was to gain a better understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting the craft malt industry. The Guild will use the feedback received to continue to develop relevant resources and information to assist maltsters during this trying time. A follow-up survey will be sent out to the Guild’s Member Malthouses again in late April.

Visit the Guild’s Coronavirus Resource Center to learn more about our response to COVID-19 and to find resources on relief efforts and coping during the pandemic.