By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians will be unable to drink Sands Beer and its fellow beverages for six months after its Freeport-based producer “took a hell of a hit” from Hurricane Dorian’s storm surge.
Jimmy Sands, the Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company’s founder, yesterday told Tribune Business that the manufacturer/distributor was likely to “be out of commission” for half a year after four feet of flood water penetrated its buildings and destroyed all its electrical machinery, finished product and ingredients in inventory.
Revealing that it was impossible to “sugarcoat” the damage, which is “substantial” and likely to run into the millions of dollars, Mr Sands pledged to “do my damnedest” and “everything in my power” to retain his 60 brewery staff and keep them employed.
Voicing optimism that the Sands producer will be able to rebuild, he conceded that recovery will “be a long haul” but said himself, fellow shareholders and management “had nothing before” when they launched the Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company just 12 years ago.
Mr Sands added that the brewery had been constructed some six-and-a-half feet above ground level to prevent flooding associated with hurricanes, but it was no match for “the perfect storm” that Dorian proved to be.
“We took a hell of a hit, with three-and-a-half to four feet of water through the brewery,” he told Tribune Business. “That hi-tech machinery doesn’t go together well with four feet of sea water so, as a result, we’re going to be out of commission for some time.
“I think we’ll be out, me speaking as a layman, at least six months. A lot of the machines are out. They’re only good for crawfish now. There was a tremendous amount of electrical equipment and all that takes time to put back together. I wish I could sugarcoat it another way but that’s how it is. It’s terrible. It was a disaster.”
Mr Sands said the Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company was “very fortunate” to have been fully insured, and he had been informed by loss adjusters that they were supposed to visit the property today to conduct a damage assessment and begin the claims process.
“I’m damn lucky to have insurance,” he added, “but when you have this sort of thing it far exceeds the claim. We took another very big hit in inventory. All the pallets toppled down all over the place because of the water.
“It is all over the ground; finished product, imported goods. Everything came down, whether rum, gin, whiskey and finished product. With four feet of water inside a warehouse, things don’t stand up any more. The boxes at the bottom became wet and couldn’t stand up, and the pallets came crashing down.
“We had three people at the brewery during Dorian. The first half of the storm, I said: ‘Man, we’ve dodged a bullet’. The second half of the storm, when I called in, they said: ‘Jimmy, the water’s inside the place’. We have a bar upstairs, and they took refuge in the bar,” Mr Sands continued.
“We raised that whole brewery six-and-a-half feet, put a tremendous amount of fill in there in anticipation of this sort of thing happening, but this was the perfect storm. It was far greater than anyone every anticipated.”
Besides the brewery’s machinery and warehoused product, Dorian’s floodwaters have also knocked out its reverse osmosis plant and key inventory ingredients such as hops, sugar and yeast. Salvage and clean-up efforts were underway at the property yesterday, while its technical advisers from Hamburg, Germany, have already arrived to assess and inspect the damaged machinery.
Mr Sands promised to to everything to retain the brewery’s current 60-strong workforce, telling Tribune Business: “I’m going to do my damnedest to keep them on because they’re a good crew and there is a lot of work to do here. I’ll do everything in my power to keep them on because they’re a good bunch of people.”
The Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company’s Dorian-related woes also extent to Abaco, where the Category Five storm’s winds and storm surges wiped out the company’s sole retail store on the island. “To put it bluntly, there’s nothing left,” Mr Sands confirmed.
Yet he remains determined to rebuild despite the devastation, adding that the support of the wider community and the Government was key to a rebuilding process he and fellow shareholders are already committed to.
“If everybody pitches in I feel confident it can be done,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business. “It’s going to be a long, hard road, but I feel confident it can be done. We’ve come this far already when we had nothing before, and at least we have something to build it back on.
“It’s not our first walk in the park. This is going to be a hard one, but we’ll get the job done. We just have to start again. You know what my dad told me many years ago? He said; ‘Son, anyone can quit, but it takes a good person to go ahead. I remember that many, many times.
“My dad was a strong guy. I just hope I have a little piece of what he had. He came up the hard way, and I don’t want to do that, but I don’t have a choice. It will be a tough one but we’ll make it. We have to start again, rebuild and go again. We cannot give up. It’s a part of the community.”
The Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company has carved out a strong niche in this nation’s liquor manufacturing, distribution and retail market since its founding in 2007.
It has been able to establish itself despite having to contend with the competitive challenge posed by BISX-listed Commonwealth Brewery, which is backed by 75 percent majority owner, Heineken, the global beverage giant.
Besides its Sands Beer staple, the Grand Bahama-based brewery also produces brands such as Sands Light, Strong Back Stout, High Rock Lager, Bush Crack Beer, Triple B Malt and Sands Passion Radler. It recently moved to an expanded three-acre warehouse and office complex in Nassau’s Airport Industrial Park to serve its continued growth on New Providence.
The Bahamian Brewery and Beverage Company scored a major victory in 2015 when it won the Bahamian distribution contract for Budweiser and all brands produced by Anheuser-Busch from Commonwealth Brewery.