The global pandemic is having a significant local impact throughout the drinks space. While sales of wine, beer, and spirits are strong at retail, that doesn’t necessarily translate to craft producers, and it doesn’t make up for the loss of the entire on-premise channel. With most of the country’s restaurants and bars operating on a severely restricted basis, and producers limited to pickup and delivery only at their tasting rooms, many producers are now operating at a fraction of their regular sales volume. That translates to a bleak picture for most craft brands across all categories.
“Right now, in these challenging times, consumers are not looking to experiment or try new things necessarily,” says Brian Rosen, founder of BevStrat, a sales and marketing agency that works with smaller wine and spirits brands. “They are looking for the heavy-lifting brands, the brands that are easy to sell, easy to buy and easy to understand.” Rosen estimates that about 2 percent of alcohol brands bring home 98 percent of the industry’s revenue, leaving tens of thousands of others competing for a tiny slice of the overall pie.
According to Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO of the American Craft Spirits Association, “Buying local is vitally important during this pandemic, particularly if the consumer has already identified a local brand they love and want to see it survive.” So what can you actually do to help?
6 Ways to Support Craft Wine, Beer, and Spirits Producers
1. Buy Directly From Producers
Some states have taken measures to ease the distribution of alcohol, including options such as direct shipping and local delivery. New York, California, Virginia, and Kentucky are among those that have relaxed their direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping regulations during the pandemic (though Kentucky’s provision doesn’t take effect until July), according to Lehrman. “This is the type of lifeline that is needed to keep open the small craft spirits businesses,” she says.
For wine, DTC sales and shipping is generally easier. Some 48 states now allow DTC for wineries, whereas DTC for distilleries has historically been more restricted. This puts distilleries at a disadvantage, according to Jaime Windon, president of the Maryland Distillers Guild, who also is founder and CEO of Windon Distilling Company, which produces Lyon Rum. “With tasting rooms closed, retail is down as much as 100 percent for distilleries in states that don’t allow shipping or home delivery.”
In Maryland, Windon has been able to offer both delivery and carryout thanks to an executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan. However, she notes that it’s far from a panacea. “It’s a wonderful new opportunity; however, we are not allowed to use third-party services to make deliveries.”
SupportOurWineries.com allows producers to list any special promotions they’re offering along with details on shipping. Many wineries are offering virtual tours or guided tastings as a means to boost sales, including directly through their websites, or in conjunction with a retail or delivery partner. For instance, Gary Farrell Winery and Three Sticks Wines teamed up to offer a Sip & Savor Through Sonoma virtual tasting package that includes bottles of wine delivered in advanced, guided tastings and tours, and food pairing segments with curated recipes from chefs Charlie Palmer and Armando Navarro.
As for beer, the Brewers Association has compiled a list of more than 1,000 breweries currently offering to-go beer sales. The association also launched its own such relief fund, the Believe in Beer Fund. The organization partnered with Bottleshare, a fundraising nonprofit for the craft beverage industry, to enable breweries to apply for financial assistance for immediate operational expenses such as payroll and rent.
To find out if the wineries, distilleries, and breweries in your area deliver locally or ship farther, give them a call to ask, or check their websites.
2. Order Delivery From Platforms With “Local” Sections
Sales have surged across nearly every app and platform that offers alcohol delivery, including Flaviar, Drizly, Minibar, ReserveBar, Caskers, and Thirstie. At Flaviar, there’s an interactive map so consumers can find local or regional brands, and a section called The Top Shelf that highlights craft brands, while most of the other apps have some type of local section as well.
In the wine world, signing up for clubs and subscriptions that focus on small, local, or otherwise underrepresented wineries is a great start. Woman-Owned Wineries has a monthly club with three hand-picked selections. The Seattle-based Crunchy Red Fruit is offering a three-bottle Relief Box shipment, with proceeds benefiting the area’s hospitality industry. The Boutique Wine Club offers quarterly shipments of three or six bottles, focusing on California wineries producing fewer than 5,000 cases per year.
3. Lobby Your State Representatives
Use your voice: Urge Congress to approve economic relief from Covid-19 for craft beverage alcohol producers, most of whom have closed their tasting rooms, canceled events, and suspended production to help flatten the Covid-19 curve.
Windon suggests consumers visit and sign up with Spirits United, a platform from the Distilled Spirits Council, to learn about and participate in the latest broad initiatives being taken to support the industry. Spirits United recently held a Covid-19 Economic Relief Day of Action, mobilizing to contact members of Congress about the need for support across all segments of the beverage alcohol industry. It’s not too late for you to join the movement, though. Just fill out this pre-formatted letter voicing your support to state representatives for economic relief.
4. Buy Hand Sanitizer — or Booze — From the Distilleries Making It
Estimates range that anywhere from half to 75 percent of distilleries across the United States are engaged in efforts to produce hand sanitizer. The American Distilling Institute (ADI), with the help of several others, has put together a comprehensive map of distilleries producing hand sanitizer. Every green Martini icon on the map indicates a distillery producing hand sanitizer. Zoom into your locale and see who’s doing what, with contact information provided for many of the distilleries. Some distilleries are donating their hand sanitizer, others are packaging it for sale to local consumers, and others are offering it for free with the purchase of alcohol.
Also consider putting your booze dollars toward brands supporting good causes. Many are providing donations and relief to the service industry or local food banks and other organizations helping the community.
Simple Vodka, for instance, has worked to fight hunger since its founding, allying with partners such as Feeding America to donate 20 meals per bottle sold. The brand has now doubled its efforts amid the current crisis. Meanwhile, Novo Fogo Cachaça donated 100 percent of all proceeds from sales of its Sparkling Caipirinha canned cocktails in April toward industry relief efforts, and Garrison Brothers distillery made bottles of its limited 8-year-old Lagunda Madre bourbon available exclusively to big donors in support of its Operation Crush Covid-19 campaign.
5. Buy Cocktails and Full Bottles From Local Establishments
For many local distillers, the best way to find their products in stock is by buying full bottles from restaurants and bars offering the service. This is a crucial tool to support not only your favored producer, but also the establishment itself. Again, regulations vary from state to state.
With wine, this lets you capitalize on the selection your favorite wine bar is known for, too. For instance, La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is offering local delivery in New York and New Jersey, including pre-built boxes from small producers worldwide. In Washington, D.C., Maxwell Park is offering local delivery, allowing you to bring home bottles from sommelier Brent Kroll’s always impressive and eclectic list. At 45 North in Portland, a range of flights by the bottle are available for delivery, including all-local packs, such as the Oregon Originals. Visit the website of your favorite wine shop or bar to see if they’re offering a similar service.
Buying cocktails to go from bars and restaurants offers the same win-win as well. As of the time of this writing, 15 states plus Washington, D.C., have allowed for sales of mixed cocktails. Organizations in other states are pushing for the same allowances. For instance, Cocktails for Hope is pushing Illinois to change its regulations.
6. Get Social and Slide Into Those DMs
The best and simplest way to figure out how and where to support your local producers is an approach some of you may be familiar with already — following them on social media and sliding into those DMs. For instance, if you followed Lyon Rum, you would have seen Windon’s efforts offering door-to-door delivery across the state, along with information such as farmers market availability and curbside pickup scheduling. Or you’d see Paso Robles producer Red Car Wine touting reducing shipping fees, membership deals, and Mother’s Day gift packages. And Temecula’s South Coast Winery showcasing mystery cases and deals, including charcuterie trays included with minimum purchases. Just look up your go-to local brands, follow along, and if you have any questions about how to help, or where or when to buy, message them directly.
Don’t stop there with your social efforts, either. With your local booze in hand — whether wine, beer, spirit, cocktail, or whatever else — go ahead and share some photos socially, “which helps us reach new eyes — and maybe eventually mouths! — while we are unable to be open and engage with new people,” Windon says. Now look at you, finally using Instagram for a good cause, DMs and all.