Brewery Highlight: Del Cielo Brewing

Two years ago, Luis Castro founded Del Cielo Brewing and it has since become an important member of the craft beer community in Martinez, CA. Before the COVID-19 virus hit the U.S., the brewery had two main revenue channels: selling craft beer in their taproom and delivering to people and businesses all over the Bay Area.

During normal operations, 40% of Del Cielo’s online orders were for canned craft beer and the rest were for kegs. Now the ratio is closer to 90% cans and only 10% kegs, as bars around the country closed and don’t need to restock their inventory. Del Cielo has shifted a lot of their attention toward online orders since the pandemic and their customers are stepping up to order from them directly, in part because Del Cielo takes a versatile service approach that leads to a better customer experience.

However they’re still losing profits, and not just because they had to close their taproom for several months; even if they sold exactly the same amount of beer as before, craft  beer sells for more in the taproom than it does canned and shipped in a six-pack. Del Cielo is determined to pick up the slack, offering online ordering features like:

  • Curbside pickup available Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Same day pickup.
  • Next day shipping available throughout California at a $20 flat rate.
  • Free home delivery on Thursdays for orders over $75.

Customers are facing hard economic times too, and offering deals like these fosters a better relationship with consumers and promotes customer loyalty, which is especially important while Del Cielo’s taproom remains closed.

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Taprooms reopen

After months relying on online ordering as a main source revenue, opening procedures have progressed far enough that many taprooms around the country went back into operation. Del Cielo planned to; they intended to open the outdoor seating area in mid-June and their indoor tables on July 1st.

However on June 28th, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an announcement that closed bars and breweries in seven counties around the state, due to an uptick in COVD-19 cases. Interestingly the governor only recommended, but didn’t require, breweries to close in Contra Costa county, where Del Cielo Brewer Co. resides. Nonetheless Castro decided the risk was too great to both customers as well as employees, and he decided to heed shelter-in-place orders for the foreseeable future. The taproom won’t open as planned.

Del Cielo settled in for a long fight. They also extended some advice to other local breweries wondering how to stay operational and even thrive during this time.

  • Keep customers engaged.  Advertise that you’re still open, promote online store specials and come up with creative ways to capture your intended audience’s attention.
  • Communicate. Let your customer base know you’re making changes in reaction to new situations, and stay open and flexible to customers’ needs. Adaptability and transparency are key.
  • Have a wide menu. People like variety. That’s why Del Cielo sells cans, crowlers and growlers so customers have a range of options. They can even take a keg home with them!

Del Cielo has captured the Bay Area’s attention for a reason. Because of their streamlined online ordering system and customer-focused mindset, they’re prepared to weather COVID-19 for a long time.

Social justice involvement

Del Cielo isn’t just looking out for their own self-interest. When protests erupted around the world over George Floyd’s murder on May 25th, they found an opportunity to join an international craft brewery movement in the making.

Marcus Baskerville, owner of Weathered Souls Brewery in San Antonio, TX, hoped to start a dialogue with the world about the Black Lives Matter movement. Thus he crafted a dark imperial stout and labeled it Black is Beautiful.

Though he intended to only sell locally and donate proceeds to organizations in his community, the beer met with unexpected favor nationwide. At friends’ suggestions, Baskerville created a website for Black is Beautiful beer. He  published the recipe and now invites other craft breweries to either use his creation or brew their own dark beer and apply the same label—as long as they donate the proceeds and join up with local nonprofits who help out marginalized communities.

Now, the Black is Beautiful social justice initiative has over 900 breweries involved, spans 50 states and 17 total countries, and includes 19 craft breweries in the Bay Area, Del Cielo among them.

Since joining the cause, Del Cielo has brewed a lot of beer to raise awareness for the campaign. On Monday June 29th, they made eighty cans of beer and a whole bunch of kegs using Baskerville’s original dark stout recipe. Regarding the Black is Beautiful initiative, Castro said:

“This is one of the cool things about the beer industry. We try to support each other. As a Colombian and being a minority in California, we want to be able to support them.”

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The intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic with other international crises is bringing people together in new and interesting ways. From breweries who share advice about staying in business to inventors of new beers that raise awareness for Black Lives Matter, the underlying takeaway is the inherent urge for humanity to stick together in times of crisis. Del Cielo Brewing Co. shows just how much we can support each other even when facing hardship ourselves, and that spirit will help them weather through COVID-19 shutdown, mass civil unrest, and whatever else 2020 brings—and they make amazing craft beer, too.

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