Hunter S Thompson knowingly once said “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” and that’s exactly what the Australian craft beer scene has done amid the absurdity of COVID-19.

For one Australian beer merchandise retailer, sales of high quality glassware have “gone berko ever since COVID really settled in” as craft lovers upped their glassware game and he is now ordering five times the normal amount from the supplier – Rastal – in Germany.

And if it weren’t for a slowdown in the time it now takes to ship to Australia, and the fact Rastal have their staff on massively reduced hours which is causing further delays, Crafty Merch’s owner Eoghan Townshend said sales would be even better.

“It has been a weird time. Weirder than we expected actually,” Townshend said.

In the first month following the pandemic’s initial impact on the Australian economy he said his phone never rang, as breweries and venues looked internally at the enormity of what lockdown was going to mean for them.

“But literally on the Tuesday after Easter we started getting calls and it pretty much hasn’t stopped ringing. Once a couple (of breweries) started selling glassware, word got out, and more and more came on board.

“I think the breweries realised they did have ways they could survive, and that merchandise like glassware was a new revenue stream and one that could easily be sold online or via a contactless pick-up.”

He said the other major factor driving the uptick was people being forced to spend more time at home, and, in some cases, with more expendable income.

“People are at home. They’re not spending money on travel or on other entertainment. And they’re seeing beautiful glassware on Instagram and I think they’re thinking to themselves ‘I want that and I can finally afford it’.

“There has been some serious hype for some of the glassware that has rivalled what we see for a limited release batch of actual beer. There’s been instances of people panicking that they’re going to miss out. It’s nuts.”

Adding to the hype is the fact the type of glass being purchased is evolving too. Once upon a time, the Teku and the Craft Master were the go-to craft glassware of choice for many Australians. But since COVID hit, more unique styles like the Lawrence and the Craft Master 2 were becoming de rigueur.

A self-confessed “small business”, Townshend’s Melbourne-based Crafty Merch is Australia’s only stockist of Rastal glassware. Via a partnership with another company, they can kiln fire a screen printed decal on to the glassware with a company’s logo or other designs.

When they started onselling the glassware, they imagined it would be in small batches of between 50 and 100 items at a time to beer venues and breweries. And for a period that was exactly how sales transpired.

“Prior to COVID, a lot of our sales were into venues and in fairly limited amounts each time. After COVID hit those sales completely dropped off due to the restrictions, but it has gone in a completely opposite direction for breweries – for both their retail shops and their tasting rooms or brewpubs.”

Crafty Merch is waiting on an order to arrive from Germany in September that is five times the size of what they would normally have placed pre-COVID. It is already half pre-sold and Townshend said he’d be forced to make another order of the same size within weeks.

“Rastal are happily impressed, but they are rather stressed by it as well.

“Due to Germany’s own domestic restrictions, Rastal staff were put on one day a week rosters, which means that regular communications have now been stretched out – making ordering, pricing, planning freight et cetera all the more difficult.

“It’s a great problem to have, but it’s also leaving us in a constant state of scramble.

“Growlers and squealers had their time during COVID of driving sales. I will imagine they will go soft again after this has all died down. T-shirt sales have been steady as they are another good revenue stream for a brewery. But nothing has had the impact on sales like glassware.

“Hopefully it continues and allows us to grow into the future.”

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