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Lockdown 2.0 a blow for regional Victoria

An already beleaguered regional Victoria beer industry is bracing itself for even more pain as a fallout from Melbourne’s renewed state of lockdown.

Not including the effects of the recent bush fires, the economic impact of COVID-19 on regional Victoria has been around $230 million so far. Early estimates by the Accommodation Association show Melbourne’s six-week shutdown will result in $350 million more in lost revenue to the regions. This will be largely due to the fact planned holidays by Melburnians are now curtailed, international travelers remain absent and the closure of the NSW and SA borders.

The businesses Beer & Brewer spoke with said they were now relying on fellow regional Victorians to support them through this latest setback.

Nathan Cowan, director at Billson’s in Beechworth, said regional Victorians were incredibly resilient, and were known to come together during tough times, but “the punch-after-punch” of recent setbacks was becoming a severe blow to the economy.

“Our primary source of income is visitation from Melbourne and the wave-after-wave of uncertainties is making for sleepless nights,” he said.

Beechworth is a population of approximately 3,000 permanent residents but it welcomes, on average, thousands more visitors on a weekly basis. Those numbers have been plummeting throughout the COVID lockdowns.

“I think those that can, will continue to support regional businesses. We even had a jump in online sales overnight.

“We’re 40 minutes from Albury and with Melbourne locked down it would be nice to have visitors from NSW prop the town up. But not even that is possible. It’s all a bit bleak.”

Black Dog Brewery’s founder James Booth said: “There’s going to be an impact. It’s going to hurt some businesses in our industry for sure. Maybe some won’t come out the other side.”

He felt his brewery, near Glenrowan in North East Victoria, won’t feel the brunt like others, as he was currently its only employee. Due to COVID-19, his Brewery Door & Bar has been closed and he’s survived on takeaway and online sales, as well as a beer club program.

“We shall wait and see. Things were very quiet during the first lockdown and we missed the Easter and ANZAC trade.

“For now, it’s largely only Melbourne (in lockdown), so I’m hoping other Victorians, not currently in lockdown, will get out and support the industry.”

Blizzard Brewing’s founder Mark Hubbard said he intended to keep his Victorian Alps brewpub open, but much depended on the local ski lift remaining operational.

“If the lift company close, no one will come up here,” Hubbard said.

“We missed our entire busy Summer period because of the bush fires. But then we were getting a head of steam up and COVID hit. Easter is one of our busiest periods and that disappeared – and now this.”

He said some of his trade came from other local businesses, but many of them hadn’t reopened, and the ones that had were reluctant to take keg stock for fear of not moving it in time.

“It’s a tough time and really hard to manage our beer production.

“If you look at the High Country Brewery Trail as an example, Malt Shed closed, albeit before the bush fires. There may be others that go the same way up here in the High Country.”

Social Bandit Brewing, at the foot of the Victorian Alps, and Rutherglen Brewery are both currently up for sale, while Crank Handle Brewery in Tawonga will be looking for increased trade after only opening its doors last November.

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