Local brewery alliance introduces delivery service during pandemic

By Jamie O'Toole, Columnist

DeKALB — Breweries in the DeKalb area have teamed up to give customers an online delivery service with a variety of beers to try during social distancing. From the safety of their home, they can enjoy beer personally fermented and delivered by these owners.

Byers Brewing Company, 230 E. Lincoln Highway, has formed what they call the “DeKalb Craft Brewers Alliance” with Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road, Malta, and Forge Brewhouse, 216 N. 6th St.

Right now deliveries are only available to DeKalb, Sycamore, Cortland and Malta, but if someone had a very large order, they would go further, Steve Byers, owner of Byers Brewery Co. said. For now there’s only a demand across these areas.

Visiting any of the three breweries’ sites, the delivery option will take a customer to Jonamac’s website where they can either place an order from Byers Brewing Co., the Forge Brewhouse or to the Jonamac Orchard. It then goes into a system they all share so they can prepare the beer someone has requested.

“You can call here and place an order for the Forge beer, and then that goes into our system,” Byers said. The Forge will then receive the request and get it read for next-day delivery.

Byers’ role as a business owner has changed significantly since shifting to delivery. Between him and his wife, Megan Byers, who both manage the store, the tables have completely turned. With some experience as a delivery driver, he has taken on the role of delivering the beer from all three breweries to the customer in a timely manner.

During normal operation, Steve Byers ferments and makes the beer, and helps serve on Fridays and Wednesdays. Megan, is usually there the rest of the days, serving customers in the taphouse.

“Now we’ve kind of switched because the taproom is closed, so she’s not really here,” he said. So now, along with delivery to make up for lost business, he still makes the beer and does all the fermentation packaging.

But Steve must keep a close eye on the online delivery service, since it stems from three portals. He must make sure he has enough products for everybody, and communicate with all the customers for the best delivery time.

This has caused some minor hiccups, as it’s an entirely new system he’s not used to, but nothing they can’t handle.

Lisa Lynch, a first-time customer, and first-time delivery service user, said her overall experience was smooth. She found the service on Facebook and wanted to support a local business from her home. It’s not everyday that beer is delivered to someone’s home.

She ordered root beer from the Forge and Traditional Hard Cider and Autumn Harvest Spiced Apple Wine from Jonamac Orchard. Although the website was glitchy at first, she eventually figured it out, and her delivery showed up at the exact time the Alliance intended.

She said her delivery driver wore gloves for safety precautions and the bottles she ordered were iced cold. She said she appreciated the attention to health and adequate alcohol care.

“This is something all beer sellers should do,” Lynch said. “ It was a $2 delivery fee, no big deal.”

So far there has been medium demand for delivery. “A few deliveries every day — maybe six a day,” Byers said.

On tap, Jonamac is offering wine enthusiasts fruity blends during their stay at home order. They have Traditional Hard Cider, Honeycrisp Hard Cider, Honeycrisp Wine, Orchard Blend Wine, Orchard Blend Wine, Red Barn Blush Wine, Apple Blossom Wine and Autumn Harvest Wine, according to Jonamac’s website.

Byers Brewing Co. is offering beers such as A Wittle Tribute, Holden’s Rye, N.I.Universe, Certified Gold, Lovely Donna and Howler Refill.

With a wider range of drinks, the Forge has Hi-Lo, Coal Dust, Tomorrow, Great Western, Quiet Man, Lonesome George, 815 Brewnited Ale, Tremor, Sunrise Hefe, Root Beer and Earthquake available on tap.

The Alliance has received very positive feedback. So far, customers have been thankful that they don’t have to leave the house and can enjoy a beer while they’re stuck at home, Steve Byers said.

Delivery seems to be productive, as a chance to expand business telling by the success so far. However, once regular operations are back up and running keeping the delivery service seems unlikely. Alcohol delivery was against the law since it’s hard to monitor underage drinking, but the state of Illinois decided to allow it during the pandemic.

When Byers delivers, he asks for ID, Lynch said.

“It depends on the state of Illinois. I would bet that they’re not going to allow it after this, so I think we’ll have to stop it,” Byers said.

At Byers Brewing Co., crafting beers for locals has personally been a job rooted in passion for beer tasting and science. The Byers said they started brewing when their favorite beers were discontinued.

The Alliance is making sure customers have access to their favorite brews while at home because they know what it’s like to crave a beer that’s no longer available or in their reach. Now, it’s only an order away.