The Proliferation of Beer Gardens: Thanks, Pandemic!

A couple weeks ago my wife and I had a date night to celebrate my birthday. A babysitter came to the house (my youngest son’s preschool teacher), and we grabbed dinner on a restaurant patio. We finished up a bit early and wanted to grab a drink, and since we were in Maynard already I quickly suggested the beer garden at Maynard’s Tomb. The beer garden was understated, some picnic tables on a paved lot between buildings, a small bar area with taps, simple decor and friendly service. On a beautiful late summer evening it was perfect. Drinking delicious craft beer is awesome, drinking ultra-fresh draft beer directly from the source is even better, and drinking said beer outside on a nice day is the absolute best. With the pandemic making responsible people weary of indoor drinking and dining we’ve seen a proliferation of beer gardens in the area, and I think this is one of the biggest silver linings to a crazy and difficult year and a half (and counting) of COVID.

While the number and size of local taprooms has exploded in recent years, the number of outdoor beer gardens at these breweries has been relatively small.This makes sense in a New England climate, there is a limited part of the year when a beer garden can be used, so it can be hard to justify the set-up and maintenance costs for an outdoor space, especially for breweries in Metro-Boston or in downtown areas, where the space for the garden would be a significant and usually separate cost. The pandemic changed that, breweries needed to sell their beer and were missing the higher margins from taproom draft sales, so once outdoor dining and drinking became OK many breweries scrambled to open beer gardens. I imagine local governments also helped to get these spaces open in many cases, helping out businesses that were struggling due to pandemic related restrictions. While some of these beer gardens are clearly quickly thrown together, sparse and imperfect, does it really matter if it lets you drink awesome beers outside on a nice day?

The big question remains, once COVID is “over”, and drinking inside doesn’t come with the fear of catching a debilitating illness, will these beer gardens stay open? I certainly hope so, the breweries have paid for the set-up costs, seating and equipment, so hopefully it will be worth their time, effort and money to keep the spaces open, at least on a seasonal basis. I honestly have no idea the costs associated with these beer gardens, I am sure each brewery will need to do the math and make the best decision for their business. Personally, I hope that many stay open, and that outdoor spaces become a regular feature at breweries, at least from April through October!

With that I will ask my readers: Have you enjoyed more beer gardens during the pandemic? What is your favorite local beer garden? Will you continue to visit beer gardens when COVID is history? Let me know in the comments here or on social media!

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