CHATFIELD, Minn. — Whether it's shifting employees around to make sense of their situation or switching to crowlers and off-sale, craft breweries in Minnesota have faced some struggle from COVID-19.

"I can't imagine it's an easy thing to change a business model," said Jake Sass, co-owner of Civil Sass Hops in Chatfield. "I think it's been tough."

That's why Jake and Abbey Sass went out of their way to make sure Fillmore County breweries knew they had their support. They did this by taking some leftover hops they had and provided it to area breweries at no cost.

"So they could essentially do whatever they wanted to with them," he said. "There's a lot of reasons for breweries to have different hops on-hand, and it's a capital outlay that we felt they might need at this time."

Sass said a slow in beer and brewing equals a slow in hops as well.

"We've seen a difference in hops sales during this time," Jake said. "But really for us, the good news is that we have a whole big crop that's coming in."

Jake Sass, who operates Civil Sass Hops with his wife, Abbey, replaces some tubing on their farm in Chatfield, Minn. on a spring weekend day. Civil Sass Hops is ramping up its operation to "acquiring the harvest capability to do everything on-site," said Sass. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
Jake Sass, who operates Civil Sass Hops with his wife, Abbey, replaces some tubing on their farm in Chatfield, Minn. on a spring weekend day. Civil Sass Hops is ramping up its operation to "acquiring the harvest capability to do everything on-site," said Sass. (Noah Fish / Agweek)
As both he and Abbey (who's currently pregnant with their first child) were out working in the field on a weekend afternoon, Jake said that spring is the busiest time of the year for growing hops. That's allowed them to look ahead rather than dwell on the negatives.

"We've been focusing most of our efforts and time just making sure we have quality product for the next year, instead of worrying about our current situation right now," he said.

Civil Sass Hops is currently ramping up its operation to "acquiring the harvest capability to do everything on-site," said Sass. That means expanding their acreage and varieties they grow significantly, and starting construction of an on-site processing facility.

And it's only the fourth year of Civil Sass having "poles in the ground," he said. Sass said they've been fortunate in who they've been mentored by, which has sped up their on-the-job learning. He said they've made sure to only grow their operation in a way they could.

"Each time we've taken another step in these last four years, we've felt very comfortable with the step we were just leaving," he said. "But then you take a look down the staircase and see how far you've come, and it's pretty crazy to see the knowledge you can gain over the course of four years."