Americans are drinking more during the pandemic. Craft distillers aren’t getting any of the love.

We’ve seen the memes about quarantinis, we’ve seen Ina Garten and her mondo cosmo, also the Wine O’Clock inessential worker Barbie. According to market research firm Nielsen, sales of alcoholic beverages spiked 55 percent in the week ending March 21, one of the first weeks of lockdown, and online sales of alcohol in the United States rose almost fivefold in April compared to the same period last year.

Alcohol delivery app Drizly says sales surged 485 percent through mid-April. And data analysis firm inMarket says light beer sales have skyrocketed, with Anheuser-Busch’s Busch Light sales experiencing a 44 increase over the past two months.

Restaurants and bars are just waking up from a long slumber, but our livers have been working overtime during the pandemic.

One category has had little uptick in sales and consumption, however. American craft distillers have seen precipitous declines in sales, worrying industry experts that many distilleries will not make it through the pandemic and economic downturn.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the American Distilling Institute, distilleries are experiencing significant layoffs and declines in sales.

“The narrative had been that people were buying all kinds of liquors, but we were skeptical,” said Scott Harris, co-owner of Catoctin Creek Distilling in Purcellville, Virginia, which makes its flagship Roundstone Rye, as well as gin and brandy. “The market has seismically changed.”

He said that before the pandemic the company sold 60 percent of its product to liquor stores and 40 percent to restaurants and bars. In April, Catoctin did not sell to a single restaurant or bar, he said.

“To actually see that is devastating,” he said.

People largely drink the fancy stuff, the small-production craft spirits, in restaurants and bars, leaving themselves in the expert care of mixologists. At home, people aren’t fiddling with amari and bitters so much, going heavy on handles of less-expensive familiar brands such as Jim Beam or Smirnoff.

Restaurants returned 80 cases of bespoke whiskey, bottlings that had been made specifically for them, to Catoctin Creek in early March. And sales in the tasting room, which accounted for 20 to 25 percent of revenue before the pandemic, disappeared completely.


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