Beer Man

For Funkwerks, the Switch to Cans Is Both a Blessing and a Curse

These have been dark days for Funkwerks.
These have been dark days for Funkwerks. Funkwerks
For the past few weeks, the Funkwerks brewery in Fort Collins has been a two-person team. Natosha Williams answers phones and takes orders for delivery while co-owner Brad Lincoln heads out in his van and drops them off. The taproom itself is empty, and the staff, including head brewer and co-owner Gordon Schuck, have all been furloughed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

While dozens of Colorado breweries have been able to keep some staffers working during the crisis by having them fill cans or Crowlers and sell them to go, eleven-year-old Funkwerks got caught in an unusual situation because of the timing of a major shift in its production strategy.

On March 10, the saison specialist began brewing and canning its four flagship beers — Saison, White, Tropic King and Raspberry Provincial — in San Leandro, California, at 21st Amendment Brewing. The two breweries are partially owned by Brooklyn Brewery, and all three have a nationwide sales partnership.

Prior to that, Funkwerks packaged all of its beer in Fort Collins, and all of it in bottles. But with its three-way partnership in place, the brewery needed to be able to supply its flagships to supermarkets — and that meant both switching to more shelf-friendly cans and producing enough beer to supply twelve to fourteen states. As a result, the company brewed several 200-barrel batches in 21st Amendment’s much larger facility.

click to enlarge The new cans from Funkwerks have been a blessing and a curse. - FUNKWERKS
The new cans from Funkwerks have been a blessing and a curse.
“We have a ton of cans now,” Lincoln says. “But it meant we had to lay off a lot more of our staff because we don’t need to brew or bottle those beers in Fort Collins.” In addition, Funkwerks spent most of its free cash on the project. As a result, Lincoln was able to cut final paychecks for the brewery’s employees but could not keep them working after that.

“I can’t imagine any more depressing days than what I have had in the last few weeks. It was incredibly upsetting to lay people off,” Lincoln adds. “But the best solution is to just keep working as much as you can to take care of our customers and hopefully our team. That’s the best way I can think of to ensure that there will actually be a future for our team.”

And bringing his staff back is the goal, especially once the beer from California begins to sell at grocery stores across the country. That will bring in revenue and, eventually, will allow Lincoln to rehire staff members to brew and sell beer again in Fort Collins.

“I prefer to produce all of Colorado’s beer in Colorado,” he explains. “The advantage of [the coronavirus shutdown] of that is that it might speed that up.” In other words, if sales go well for the flagships, Lincoln will be able to rehire staff to brew beer for the taproom and for local bars and restaurants, as well as for bottles of small-batch beers.

Another possibility: Lincoln just applied for a coronavirus-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will forgive the money owed as long as a business uses it for payroll, rent, mortgage, interest or utilities. “If the PPP loan comes through, we will bring the team back to start producing cans for Colorado immediately,” he says.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes