Dispatches from quarantine: Beer distribution takes on new personas at Bonfire Brewing during COVID
Bonfire's new home delivery team is a colorful crew
This week governor Jared Polis addressed the State about COVID-19, and he made a very foreboding statement about our future.
“We want to dispel any notion that we can go back to the way things were.” He said, before a podium, a buff around his neck, his sign-translator and aids all standing six feet behind him and apart from each other.
The full meaning of that statement, is, as of yet, unknown to The People. But, what it means at least in part, is that large events and social gatherings will remain forbidden by law for the foreseeable future; and that restaurants and bars — once they finally, someday reopen — won’t be operating the same way they once did.
That’s a strange thought. And it’s unsettling. Social gatherings, events, bars and restaurants are fun just the way they were goddamnit! I’d kill for a good concert full of sweaty, drunk humans packed shoulder to shoulder, jostling against one another, sharing microbiomes all devil-may-care. I miss the comfort of drinking a beer from a pint glass, at a familiar brewery that smells like barely and hops, surrounded by friends, without masks on and without the fear of sharing some filthy disease with each other.
Someday, I keep telling myself. Someday. Until then, though, we’ve got to adapt. We’ve got to roll with the punches and come up with new ways to entertain ourselves and to entertain others.
Which is the whole idea behind Bonfire Brewing’s new home-delivery campaign.
Doug Fenske, ladies and gentlemen. He is Bonfire Brewing’s ale ambassador, Vail Valley distributor, DJ, musician and fly-fisherman extraordinaire. Up until COVID came to Colorado, Fenske’s job involved a lot of beer deliveries to local restaurants, bars and liquor stores. He was driving kegs all over the Vail Valley, bringing Bonfire’s hoppy happiness with him wherever he went.
Since the outbreak, though, things have changed for Fenske. Not just at the brewery’s bar in Eagle (which, like every other establishment of its kind, is open only for take-out crowler and growler orders), but his whole gig has been turned on his head. Without restaurants and bars to bring beer to, and without clients to make sales trips to outside the Valley, Fenske has had to change his modus operandi.
Fortunately, though, things haven’t really slowed down for him or the brewery.
“I'm just as busy, if not busier than I was before and I could not be more grateful for that,” he says. “It's just all shifted a little bit.”
His restaurant and bar deliveries ground to a halt pretty much as soon as the order came down to shut those establishments. But, he says, he’s still bringing beer to all the local liquor stores, and they are buying as much as they can to support them through these strange times.
And, as you can see from Bonfire’s new commercial, Fenske is the face of the brewery’s new and expanded home delivery campaign. It’s a big job for one guy, but luckily, he isn’t running this show alone — he’s getting a lot of help from both his coworkers and his copious personas. Doug Exotic, Dealin’ Doug, Bubbles Doug, Doug of the Dead, Douglist Catch, Downunder Doug and several other colorful characters are all helping him get Bonfire’s beer where it needs to go.
“I wasn't sure what to expect from that video,” he says chuckling. “I just came to Amanda and said, ‘hey, you know, we've been talking about expanding our home delivery, and I’ve recently acquired all these new nicknames and personas. Let's put them to work and see if people find this funny.’”
So, in addition to announcing their expanded home delivery operations (now serving all of the Vail Valley, not just Eagle and Gypsum), Doug and several other Bonfire employees threw together a plan, came up with a commercial, and now, anyone who orders Bonfire beer from their website, can have it delivered directly to their door by whichever Dougly-character they so desire.
“Two out of the twelve home deliveries I’ve made in the last couple days, people requested Doug Exotic to deliver,” he laughs. “So I delivered.”
Now he says, he’s going to have to keep their delivery van stocked with beer and costumes. But he’s game. Sure, it might mean more work for him, and it might be awkward at times, but that’s all worth it to make someone’s day.
It’s a testament to the spirit of this brewery and the people who work there. Bonfire Brewing doesn’t just bring their beer to your doorstep — they’ll bring you a smile, too.
Fenske’s character-delivery-operation isn’t the only progressively minded thing Bonfire’s done in the face of COIVID-19, either. They were one of the few breweries in the state to prepare for this shutdown, by limiting their keg production and ramping up can production in the weeks prior to the bars and restaurants closing. The co-owner Andy Jessen saw what was coming down the pipes and had the foresight to redirect their resources to prepare for it.
"About two weeks prior to the virus hitting the U.S., we began transitioning to 90% packaged product to guard against sitting on a lot of unsaleable draft beer," Jessen told Forbes in an interview earlier this month. "We are now doing 95% packaged product to get existing beer out of the tanks."
They’re also doing their part to help their clients avoid unnecessary losses. Cleaning beer taps at bars and restaurants is required maintenance, Fenske explains; without it, taps go bad and the beer that comes out of them tastes spoiled. So, if the restaurants that stock Bonfire beer leave it sitting in those taps for weeks on end, they might ruin the lines and have to replace them outright, when they’re finally allowed to reopen again.
“That could be detrimental when you've been closed down for so long,” says Fenske.
So, he and Jessen passed along detailed instructions from the Colorado Brewer’s Association to all of their clients about how to drain and clean their taps and leave them sitting empty, until some level of normalcy returns.
Which, neither Fenske, nor I can wait for. Bonfire just released their La Tina Mexican lager — a fantastic beer that conjures up fond memories of spring evenings out sipping on Bonfire’s back patio, sunshine lighting up pint glasses like amber lanterns, people laughing, gathered ‘round their firepit.
That vision is legally unattainable right now, though. If we want to enjoy a La Tina in the sun, it will have to be from the comfort of our own yards and patios — alone.
Luckily, Bonfire Brewing has a platoon of personalities out there, ready and waiting for your home-order (that is, in the Vail Valley – just order from their website). They’ll bring you whatever flavor you like and they’ll do it in style.