On April 12, when England allowed pubs to reopen for outdoor service after months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I did what many British people did: I went out for a pint of beer. I arrived at one of my local pubs 15 minutes after opening and was already second in line, a line that continued, at varying lengths, for the rest of the day.
That initial excitement has only slightly subsided over the ensuing two weeks. On Saturday night, we have turned away from three fully-booked drinking establishments before finally pulling some strings at the fourth.
Thankfully, it's been a boon for the struggling pub industry: The Drinks Business reported today that after the first week of reopening, hospitality sales were down only 24 percent compared to the same week in 2019, according to data from Coffer CGA Business Tracker. At drinking-focused pubs specifically, sales were down a mere 11 percent—and keep in mind, current restrictions only allow pubs to serve outdoors and only to seated customers. (Unusually sunny weather so far has helped the pubs' cause.)
Those are pretty incredible sales numbers in the face of such limited capacity—and at least one major brewer has admitted they're struggling to keep up. Heineken has reportedly been forced to temporarily limit the number of kegs of Birra Moretti—one of England's more popular draft lagers—that it will allow British pubs to order to just three per week to fend off a more serious shortage.
"Demand for Birra Moretti and Amstel has totally surpassed our most optimistic forecasts, and our breweries are working round the clock to deal with this high level of demand," Heineken UK said in a statement provided to MailOnline. "We are working with our customers to offer alternative beers from the extensive Heineken UK range of brands as we increase production."
But as Alastair Kerr, regional representatives coordinator for the Campaign for Pubs, pointed out, that promise could be of little consolation for pubs hoping to fight their way back from what started as an incredibly difficult year. "The beer shortage issues that are being faced by some publicans across the UK is a serious problem that is affecting their ability to trade efficiently and turn a profit," he told the news site. "It is a real shame that some pubs are unable to stock some of their best-selling products. Pubs are struggling enough, with many opening on a financial loss and a beer shortage is the last thing they need. We hope that this is only a temporary problem. It is essential that these pubs be able to get the beer that they desperately need, some of whom are contractually obliged to sell that particular product."
Beyond being a major beer producer, Heineken—which is based across the North Sea in The Netherlands—also owns about 2,500 drinking establishments in the United Kingdom, making the beer shortage especially tricky for those bars and pubs. And demand could push higher again in less than three weeks' time: Limited-capacity indoor drinking is set to resume on May 17. Even as an American living in England, I've already marked my calendar.