This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
You don’t need us to tell you that COVID-19 has screwed Australia’s pub industry. No one’s allowed to go out, which means no one’s drinking in pubs, which means once-thriving hotels are now shuttered hulks on eerily quiet streets. Reminders of a bygone era.
Maybe you’ve considered the blow that’s been dealt to the hospitality industry, as socialising is effectively outlawed and the economy pitches into freefall. But no one’s spared much thought for the producers, the brewers, who are now being forced to pour approximately 4.5 million litres—that is, almost 25 million schooners—of unwanted beer down the drain.
An unprecedented drop in demand and the forced closure of venues has led to thousands of kegs of “unwanted” beer being reclaimed from pubs in South Australia and tipped down the sink.
“It’s a scary amount when you see it stacked up on the pallet—it’s a lot of beer,” local publican Sam Ferguson told 7News. “We’re fortunate enough to be a small venue but there’s a lot of big venues out there that are tossing a lot of beer down the drain.”
Lion Australia, one of the nation’s largest brewers, is emptying 90,000 kegs at wastewater treatment plants across the country. Australia’s largest brewer, Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), is meanwhile attempting to plug the leak by donating thousands of two-litre glass bottles to pubs, in a bid to help them sell more takeaway beer.
But there’s still a colossal stockpile of the stuff just sitting there, going to waste.
According to some brewers though, there is at least one upside to this mass, nationwide clearout: it increases the chances that the very first glass of beer people drink post-lockdown is, at the very least, fresh.
“I think all Australians love going to the pub and sharing a beer with their mates,” said Lion Australia’s Rob Higgins, “and this will just really promote clean, fresh beer.”
Towards the end of March, both CUB and Lion Australia warned that if breweries were deemed non-essential and forced to close, it could take up to three months for beer supplies to return to normal once plants reopened and started operating again. Business Insider reported that CUB vice-president of corporate affairs Julian Sheezel said the company was ”greatly concerned about no beer being available in Australia for at least three months if beer is not given exempt status, and what this would mean for tens of thousands of jobs”.
“In these incredibly uncertain times people need some normality in their lives. They need to be able to access beer and other liquor at bottle shops,” said Sheezel. “You can’t turn major breweries off and then quickly turn them back on. After re-opening there could be three months of no beer for pubs and bottle shops.”