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Walla Walla brewery creates 'The Antidote' for coronavirus blues

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The Antidote
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When there isn’t a cure for the hard times, Walla Walla brewmaster David Marshall instead offers “The Antidote.”

A new American lager from Burwood Brewing Co. comes with a hope to curb the chaos — both for beer lovers and for the Airport District brewery navigating the closure of its taproom through the COVID-19 pandemic.

As businesses wrestle with revenue streams and temporary closures, many are looking for creative ways to keep their products in front of customers.

For Burwood, that means a new product.

“If you like beers like the ones that used to be brewed in large, now-closed breweries of Seattle or Olympia then this beer is for you,” a post on the Burwood’s website states.

Said to be light and easy going down, the beer is also easily Burwood’s most affordable at $10 a growler.

Marshall learned beer-making under the mentorship of someone who worked at the aforementioned Seattle brewery. Known for its craft brews, Burwood makes a turn with its offering, reminiscent of Rainier, Oly and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The closure of certain businesses, such as restaurant dining rooms, tasting rooms and tap houses landed an immediate blow for Marshall and his wife and business partner, Jennifer Marshall.

By Tuesday, Burwood business was down 90%. Without restaurants and bars able to pour in-house, that side of the business froze. But more importantly, 60% of business comes directly from the tap room, Jennifer Marshall said.

In the days since the announcement, they’ve changed to a daily schedule that allows them to fill growlers of their beer to go.

It won’t likely sustain them. One growler is the equivalent of four beers. One keg fills 31 growlers.

At that rate, they’d have to have explosive community demand.

“We don’t rely on tourism; we rely on locals,” Jennifer Marshall said. “We’ve been feeling the love from our regular customers, but it’s not sustainable.”

The Marshalls know they are relatively lucky. Their credit union is suspending loan payments on their building at the moment. They’re going through the steps for a Small Business Administration disaster loan.

Others have it harder. Salons and barber shops, along with other businesses, have zero revenue coming in without their own versions of takeout or growler fills.

“Nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to feel like a failure,” Jennifer Marshall said. “But this isn’t our fault.”

April starts the year’s busy season for businesses like Burwood. And the suspension of Food Truck Night, coordinated by the brewery, and its Goat Lord Release Party are hard hits.

If their beers were canned, sustainability would be easier.

“That’s the only way craft breweries are surviving,” she said.

The Antidote is an approach to the hard times for all, the Marshalls say. At a time of stress with kids out of school, working from home — or worse — not working at all, runs on toilet paper and bread, and no access to dine out, the beer is pitched as the “antidote” to coronavirus blues.

If it takes off, more plans for it are in the works that could help the business with its future.

“It’s just scary times,” Jennifer Marshall said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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