Buy local. Buy craft spirits.
Good advice for booze fans any time of the year, but now more of a plea from the craft industry (and this writer) during our current and lingering pandemic.
Smaller distilleries initially weathered COVID-19 by turning to production of hand sanitizer, but that market has dwindled. With tasting rooms still pretty much closed and distribution of product limited by current circumstances and restrictive state laws, we’re looking at a craft distillery bloodbath.
Plus, it’s now particularly hard for tiny brands to compete with the big names in the booze industry.
“Brands that are on grocery store shelves tend to have fared better as grocery stores have been deemed essential business since the beginning of the outbreak,” as Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO of the American Craft Spirits Association, told InsideHook at the beginning of quarantines in April. “Unfortunately, many craft brands are unable to find a spot on the shelves there. Liquor stores that have remained open have reduced hours, too. And importantly, we also know that production is down throughout the craft industry so sales are coming from the prior inventory.”
So yes, Wild Turkey, Tito’s and Don Julio — all brands we enjoy — may see a drop in sales, but those brands will survive. But as a study by the Distilled Spirits Council noted yesterday, 41 percent of craft distillers’ sales have evaporated and 31 percent of their employees have been furloughed in the last few months. Overall, there’s been an estimated $700 million loss in annualized sales.
So besides government help, the craft industry needs your help. If you’re drinking, consider supplanting your usual boozy order with something from a smaller and/or local spirits brand.
Below, we’ve compiled some online resources:
Booze Delivery Apps
If you’re utilizing Drizly, Minibar Delivery or Saucey (or less booze-centric services like Delivery.comand Postmates), you’re at the whim of the liquor stores near you. Our suggestion — don’t limit yourself to what’s promoted on the front page. If you want a whiskey, go to that category and dig deep.
Local Liquor Stores
Ordering straight from a local liquor store — via the store’s own app, a web browser or even, gasp, the phone — usually means a wider selection of spirits. Plus, there are occasional unexpected deals and a real human touch at work here (and the stores themselves prefer you order directly).
If you’re willing to wait a few days for delivery as opposed to hours, there are several online merchants that cater to the discerning drinker. A few examples: Newcomers Curiada are small, but they curate their selections carefully by theme (“rooftop aperitifs”) and spirit category. The Whisky Exchange, ReserveBar, Caskers and Flaviar, meanwhile, may lean a little heavily into whisk(e)y but actually offer a wide range of spirits, comprehensive notes about each distillery and selections that accommodate both large and small brands.
A few other retailers that have a good proportion of smaller booze labels available for delivery: Cask Cartel, Craftshack (which was originally all about beer but now includes spirits), Spirit Hub (which services Illinois and Nebraska) and Seelbachs. Obviously, availability depends on your state’s laws.
Category Specific Sites
Like Japanese whisky? Head over to Dekanta. Agave fan? Try Old Town Tequila or Mercado de Mezcal. Rum fans, you have Planet Rum. Each of these sites will have a diverse and educated selection of spirits. If you want to stick with something more American, sites like New York Craft Spirits that aren’t picky about the category but are sticklers about location (and helping smaller brands) and Great American Craft Spirits (note: we haven’t had any experience with the latter two and neither has updated their websites in a while, so buyer beware).
Your Local Distillery
State laws have changed enough during COVID that your local favorite craft distiller may be able to ship directly to your home — Virginia has been a big proponent of this. Also, check on social media for your favorite distillery, as they’ll inevitably keep everyone up to date on where they’re available and how you can order a bottle (some are opening dedicated online shops).