It has been more than seven months since I have set foot in a distillery. I think part of me knew this would eventually happen but I now know for certain that I won’t be going back any time soon as the tasting room remains closed indefinitely. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just what needed to be done for the good of the business. I am really going to miss working with my friends there and just getting to see the inner workings of a really special place. One of the biggest things I miss is the smell, which is a funny thing to realize. My favorite part of being a distillery tour guide was opening the door to productions and getting hit with a powerful aroma of fermenting grains. Along with the great drinks of course.
Obviously I’m completely gutted that I won’t be going back any time soon, but I count myself extremely fortunate to be in the situation that I am. I still had my other job which I managed to avoid being furloughed or laid off from. I know plenty of people who were and still are not that lucky. Almost every day I go into work and speak with one more restaurant that has to close because of everything going on. Their entire livelihood has been destroyed in the span of a few months when restaurants/bars/distilleries should have been flourishing. And the rest are barely treading water right now. The lack of a cohesive response or relief for these industries has forced many business owners to choose between shutting their doors or risking the health of themselves, their employees, and their customers for what little business they can obtain. Without a concrete response for these businesses, which at this point seems to be unlikely for the immediate future, things will only get worse. Especially with winter approaching and depriving everyone of the outdoor space they were barely surviving with.
Everyone knows that restaurants and bars in the United States are devastated, and I fear soon enough the craft distilling industry may not be doing much better. The Distilled Spirits Council released a survey back in April showing just how devastating the coronavirus has been specifically for craft distillers. The most alarming part of that release:
“Two-thirds of respondents do not believe they will be able to sustain their businesses for more than 6 months.”
We are just now past that sixth month and the situation only seems seem to have improved slightly over the summer. A lot of businesses have been able to pivot in some way to help stop the bleeding. Most distilleries have either decided to focus solely on production needs for wholesale or have followed suit with restaurants in pivoting towards to go sales and outdoor seating. But while liquor store sales are booming not every craft distillery will necessarily have that strong of a wholesale business, especially those that are newer. Which means their main source of income would have been from their tasting rooms and local partners such as restaurants and bars, both of which dropped off monumentally back when all of this started. And are about to be even more severely affected with the rising case numbers in the US and the approaching winter. Frankly I am surprised distillers have been able to hold out for so long. While I have seen a couple of articles discussing the potential for closing both back in April and more recently in August, a quick Google search didn’t reveal too many permanent closures within the craft distilling community. So hopefully that is a good sign but I do fear what we will see in the next two or three months.
So now what? For myself, I think I’m just going to lay low and expanding my knowledge base. I have a few books on spirits and distilling to work through but I haven’t spent as much time as I would like on actually reading them. Plus I’m hoping to start home brewing some sake as soon as I can source the right equipment/spare the money. And most importantly I’m just going to try to stick to a regular writing schedule. I have slacked off immensely in that aspect, mainly because I was working nonstop for the first four months of the pandemic. But I think now my work-life balance has balanced out somewhat. I just have no idea what I’m going to write about. And hopefully soon enough we’ll all be able to walk back into a distillery again, though I don’t really know when that is going to be. But I’m sure it will smell great!