We all know the quagmire we find ourselves in now. The awful fact is that, no matter how American beer, wine, and spirits fans rally, hundreds and maybe thousands of those small producers that we so rightly admire will probably be gone by the time the coronavirus runs its course. And that is even if we all take extraordinary care to get out and support our local producers
It’s not fair. But then life seldom is and it’s especially cruel that this has happened in a time when we have the weakest “leadership” – and I use that term in its loosest possible sense – in our history. So, it becomes up to us to try to mitigate the damage this pandemic will do…and several things have occurred to me since all this started and, try as I might, I just cannot shoot holes in any of this.
With the VAST majority of American breweries, wineries, and distilleries having to shut tap and tasting rooms, and many of them having found that curbside pick-up CAN actually work, to some degree, it’s going to be critical that we not create a “honeymoon” dynamic in our calling in or ordering online for pick-up. It is going to do little good – and may, in fact, even do actual harm – for you to run out to a local brewery or winery and throw down a stack of cash for a load of wine…and then disappear. We have no idea how long the general shut-down may last and businesses can fail just as quickly at the end of that period as at the beginning; faster, in fact, as most will have, by then, dipped into whatever cash cushion that may have had, as they’ve had NONE of the most potent regular revenue-stream: taproom or tasting room sales.
Let’s say you drink a bottle of wine every two days. Many of us do it. Many of us also drink a full bottle on most days, alone or with your spouse. But let’s charitably say you’re not becoming a full-blown lush and go through a bottle every two days.
So, you get a burst of enthusiasm and run out to Chateau Lady Marmelade and drag home five cases of wine, figuring that the grocery stores may close and you don’t know IF you’ll be able to go get some back-up wines. At two a day, that haul will last three months…and you’ve visited ONE winery.
Here’s why that’s bad…
Even by this point, I don’t need to tell you that there is a mental-spiritual aspect to this new situation. Normally active people leave the house most days. Now, you’re not. It feels claustrophobic, like you’re trapped, and the looming presence of the virus sits on us all, 24/7. You NEED cheering up, from time to time, so you watch cat videos and read stupid memes and binge watch Fleabag and TRY, at least, not to sink into a non-productive funk. Brewers and winemakers and distillers go through that, too, as do ALL business people. If hundreds of customers roll through the brewery or winery, stock up, and vanish that will probably start them thinking It’s Over.
Most people do not have unlimited discretionary income, so some planning is involved in spending for anything past the necessities. So I’m proposing a strategy that serves everybody:
THE RULE OF SIX
(Four, Three, adapt as needed)
Don’t go crazy with your beverage purchases. This is NOT purely a matter of community support. Your needs matter, too. But, at this early point, to-go and delivery sales by most producers IS working, so gauge your consumption and have some faith that you WILL be able to get drinks on an ongoing basis. Buy six bottles. Resolve that you are going to drink a half bottle a day. For beer, of course, it’s a lot more daily, depending on your appetites but you will probably not kill off a 64 oz. growler by yourself in one day. PLAN ON LAYING IN A THREE WEEK SUPPLY. (Drinking a half rack of Bud Light daily? This post is not for you…) Craft beer fans, drinking beers that usually contain elevated levels of alcohol, may be consuming two or three a day. But, again, you’re not a full-blown alkie. So, let’s say you’re not drinking every day. Let’s say that you down three beers on a day when you do imbibe and that day is every other day. Over three weeks, you’ll use up 45 beers. So, you buy two cases. The 45 plus three extras, in case unnamed persons want one. (Or you want a fourth. We all have Those Days) At that rate, you’re using your Rule of Two. If they happen to last longer than three weeks, it won’t be a LOT longer and this still works.
Now, some of you will read this and think, “Body, you have no idea how much I drink, especially now, when I’m drowning my sorrows.” No, I don’t. Conceded. But, as always, I’m preaching moderation, NOT swilling like a sailor on shore leave. Here’s a handy table:
Wine: Six bottles, every three weeks (Example: 6 x $18 ea. = $108 every trip)
Beer: Two cases, every three weeks (Example: 2 x $30 = $60 per trip)
Liquor: One bottle every three weeks, of the types you drink most, whiskey, vodka, etc.
(This is going to vary widely, according to your tastes but anybody can drink like a potentate for $50 a bottle, whiskey, and $30, Vodka or Tequila or Gin, so let’s say $80 per)
YES, you are going to spend more on wine. Deal with it. We pay for our tastes and, hey, you probably spend about that much on wine in normal times, if you stop to add it up.
This keeps the producers with steady income. It keeps you stocked. It involves a minimum of personal contact. It keeps the brewers, winemakers, and distillers optimistic and keeps you mellow.
PLEASE, take Rule of Six as a suggestion, not an actual rule…which it would be if I ran the world and, believe me, you’re grateful that’s not the case. The main point is this…
IF YOU WANT TO ACTUALLY SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CRAFT BEVERAGE MAKERS, IT IS NOT JUST A ONE-SHOT PROPOSITION.
Some people will continue buying their booze at a big box store or their supermarket no matter what. As I see every day, in emails and on social media, many people are absolutely immune to considerations of their neighbors and/or friends who own adult beverage companies continuing to exist. That’s idiotic and selfish…but that’s Life.
DON’T GET MARRIED TO ANY PRODUCER
One of the great problems with American tastes is that people try things until they find something like Joey’s Truck Stop Cabernet, find a handy place to buy it, and just keep guzzling it, as though under hypnotic suggestion. They also tell all their friends, “This is the greatest wine in the world!“, even if they haven’t tasted more than a dozen wines in their lives. We are a habitual culture. We crave consistency. We SAY we want choices but that’s lip service to an idea, mainly. You’ll say, in a huffy tone, “Well, I drink lots of different stuff!” And so do I. But we’re not typical American consumers.
The dark and buried truth is that all those transcendent, game-changing bottles of rock-star wine that rack up lofty scores and whose prices rise accordingly are made possible by the folks who buy the $10 – $20 bottles in HUGE volumes. They simply cannot afford pricier wines and, in all likelihood, have never even tried any. Around 80% of all domestic wine revenues, annually, are accounted for by those lower-tier wines…and the happy accident is that those wines are, by LIGHT YEARS, better than they have ever been in human history. You can buy genuinely great, eye-popping Spanish wines that take 90+ point scores from reviewers and win medals by the bushel basket all day long, for less than $20. Really. And MOST domestic wineries in the US have some sort of value tier, the sales of which pay for their high-end wines. And those domestic wines are frequently, these days, jaw-dropping.
You don’t have to spend $50 a bottle to drink great wine. I know that statement is not going to make a lot of winemakers happy but it’s not like they haven’t already heard it a million times. This is when Fools like me have to actually work for a living. I can recommend wines because I still have samples landing on my doorstep every week and so do Harvey Steiman and Paul Gregutt and every other wine writer. And until this sad episode is over, I’m going to provide more Washington reviews than I usually do, either here in The Pour Fool or on my criminally-neglected The Pour Fool Facebook page. When I review anything from outside Washington, I’m going to try to ascertain if that winery is open for online ordering and drive-thru pick-up.
Nutshell: TRY to buy from at least a few different wineries. If your first buy is Sleight of Hand, make the next Otis Kenyon and the next Barnard Griffin and the next Gordon Brothers and the next Milbrandt. ALL of those Washington state wineries have GREAT value wines in their rosters. YES, by all fuggen means, occasionally treat yourself to one of their top-tier wines, maybe just a bottle or two. But you do not have to crash your own dollar reserves to drink like a king. (If you can afford cases of $75 a pop wines, God Bless You, do that until you drop. You will make some small winery VERY happy!) Same in beer. In Oregon, let’s say you live in Bend, maybe a case at Deschutes and one at Bend Brewing, for that first purchase. Then try Boneyard and Crux for the next Rule of Two. Then Monkless and Silver Moon. That’s just Bend. In Portland, you can buy two different cases at a time and not repeat yourself for a year. Also, seasonal beers will run out and new ones will debut. AND, DO NOT forget, those can almost always be mixed cases. You could bring home eight different beers, every trip!
We are arguably entering the Golden Age of craft distilling and buying local spirits has never been easier in your lifetime. Here in WA state, we have Westland and Dry Fly and Oola and about 100 more. In Nashville, there’s the remarkable Corsair. In rural Colorado, Marble Distillery(!). Seek out those distilleries. Even if they don’t advertise regular hours, many will still sell you bottles if you call and ask.
Fond as I am of hundreds (literally) of breweries, wineries, and distilleries outside Washington, we took a vow, yesterday, that – at least while we’re all shut-ins – we’re going to buy NO beer that is not made within driving distance and is not available in cans or crowlers. Filling a growler, especially your own glass or metal, can be a risky proposition, as many people don’t properly sanitize theirs. Here’s a cheap and easy step that any brewery (or winery; filling growlers with wine is also now a Thang) can do to protect themselves from contamination and let customers know their growler is safe:
FILL A 5 GALLON BUCKET – easily obtainable from Lowes or Home Depot, if there’s not one already one from a food service on hand – with a solution of 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water. For the math challenged (like me), that will be four gallons of water to 1 1/3 cups of bleach. Obviously, CLEAN THE DAMNED BUCKET FIRST and then clearly mark it as a bleach bucket. When handed a growler, COMPLETELY immerse it in the bleach water until the inside is full and let it sit for a minimum of 30 seconds. Remove it, rinse thoroughly, and then fill. Wear gloves for this entire operation or pick up the filled growler with a clean towel.
Somebody has to be the grown-up in this deal and if people won’t clean their shit, your doing it protects you and also protects them from their own negligence. And if you’re a customer reading this, the exact same method works just fine at home. You have bleach and a bucket costs about $4. Invest.
I cannot stress this strongly enough, so I’m not even going to try to be subtle about it:
Nobody is suggesting that you buy ZERO Stone or Cigar City or Mollydooker or Balvenie but just that you try your local producers first. There are TONS of good reasons for this, mainly that you’re about 99%certain to be STUNNED by how good your local stuff is. But also because:
- The owners are either someone you know or someone a friend knows. In one city or town? Six degrees of separation? More like maybe three or four.
- Your money stays in your local economy. It helps build roads and parks and young minds, through substantial contribution to education. It funds public servicesm the arts(!), utilities…everything. And let’s not kid ourselves and pretend, as some dying breed to tight-ass state legislators often do, that the revenues generated by sales of adult beverages is miniscule. Between beer, wine, cider, and spirits sales, booze makes a MASSIVE difference in the bottom line of any state in which the those are produced in significant quantities. Maybe not so much in certain states which are late to the party but that is changing and your state probably receives hundreds of millions of $$$ from adult beverage sales.
- JOBS. Hello? More producers, more employees, more households with incomes. The only course I ever flunked, in 17 years of school, was an advanced math class but positive digits added to a base of zero is still > nobody making alcoholic drinks.
- Adult beverage production and the surrounding cultures exist on the same approximate plane as music and dance and theater: not strictly necessary to sustaining human life but if that life is bland and characterless and No Fun, what are we sustaining? We all have our own definition of “The Finer Things” and, for MOST of us, arts and museums and movies and a Laphroaig “Lore” and Ridge “Montebello” and North Coast “Rasputin” and Shacksbury “Dry” are all part of that continuum.
All this verbiage adds up to ONE central idea: Use It Or Lose It.
If you like having the choices and don’t want to lose the privilege of having options AND great, fun visits to local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, KEEP GOING BACK AND BUYING BOOZE. And when all this is over…you will have made friends at those places for life.
STAY HOME. Stay safe. Drink Local.