One of the bright spots for breweries, bars and pubs with a food offering at the heart of their operation has been the ability – if they so desire – to keep their kitchens running for takeaway and home delivery. It's allowed many to retain at least some of their staff, while there are those that have looked to bring a bit of the venue to your door too, whether it's The Cherry Tree crew rocking up to your home with speakers blasting out classic bangers or Mongrel including a playlist with your order.
For the folks at Saccharomyces Beer Café in Brisbane, they wanted to give their chef the chance to flex his muscles a little while also keeping the spirit of their regular beer degustations alive. And thus the Isolation Degustation series was born.
"Thomas [Emblard] has come from a fine dining background in France where he ran his own restaurant for twelve years," Saccharomyces co-owner Simon Booy says.
So, while much of the food they serve at (or, for the time being, from) the South Brisbane venue is of the comfort food variety, their regular beer dinners provide the chance to push himself a little more.
"And this idea just came from doing those," Simon says.
So, for last night's debut, "attendees" (including the happy punter pictured at the top of the article) were able to pre-book a two-course paired dinner featuring pulled pork cottage pie followed by a chocolate brownie cheesecake with a chunky raspberry beer compôte. It came with two Alefarm beers originally due to be poured at an event last month. They then rocked up between 5pm and 6pm to collect the food and beers ready to be enjoyed as soon as they got home.
The first two (last night and tomorrow) sold out and there's already more lined up for the coming weeks. Some make a feature of a particular brewer, others are themed, such as one celebrating Belgian beer (they had a keg of De Ranke lined up for their annual Belgian Day celebrations).
"It's also a good way to reduce any sort of wastage because it's all pre-purchased," Simon adds. "We know how many we are cooking for and make sure they're getting good beer too."
Also looking to add a twist to their enjoy-at-home meals is the couple at the Prince Alfred in Port Melbourne. They've already found favour for their method of sending people home with fresh tap beer – instead of standard growlers or crowlers, they've been using old school, one-litre milk bottles. And now they've introduced some pub classic Daily Deals to be enjoyed at home: Monday is Pie & Beer, Wednesday is Steak Night, Thursday Parma & Beer and so on, complete with Sunday roast, of course.
"It’s forced us to change our business model from neighbourhood watering hole to takeaway food and beer vendor – full pivot from pub business to retail/takeaway offer," co-owner Anna Streater says. "Some days we’re not sure if we’re Dan Murphy or Ronald-fucking-McDonald!
"In all seriousness, our sales are down about 70 percent, but we’re determined to keep trading, to keep the supply of good draught beer open in Port and neighbouring suburbs and we’re sticking at it seven days a week, 4pm to 8pm, cos we reckon it’s important to keep providing that offering and to stay in touch with our locals."
At Saccharomyces, they're hoping to embellish the degustation offering as they go; there's talk of giving those who take part in their Wayward Iso Dego next week a brewery tour via Zoom. On the beer front, there's some top notch beers from Scandinavian brewers they never got around to serving at the curtailed Brewsvegas that are likely to make an appearance too.
As for the wider picture across the Brisbane beer scene, Simon says it's been a little like the Wild West in recent weeks as many businesses have scrambled to adjust, with some selling beers at far lower price points than they normally would, or Simon suggests should, be retailing. At the same time, many people stockpiled when the panic set in so, as he puts it, "everyone's getting through the baked beans at home".
"It's just survival," he says. "Is it going to be six months [of these conditions] or 18 months?"
With JobKeeper payments looking set to give Saccharomyces, as with many other beer and hospo businesses, some support in retaining staff, he views it as a chance "to experiment and find what works and change the business model for a while; it might then become something we can keep on using afterwards.
"It's a chance to do the stuff we've been thinking about but never had the time to do."
You can keep tabs on upcoming Isolation Degustations via the SBC Facebook page or by calling into see Simon and his crew at the bar and bottleshop. The Prince Alfred crew are keeping their tap list updated here and their menu here.
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.