Md. distilleries hoping new bill will be able to deliver
The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed Jeff Harner’s business. Sangfroid Distillery in Hyattsville, Md., open for just two years, went from delivering a small percentage of its orders before the pandemic to delivering roughly half of them shortly after it began.
An emergency order by Gov. Larry Hogan in March enabled that transformation, and Harner credits it with saving his fledgling business, which creates and sells Dutch-style gins, rye whiskies and brandies made with fruit he grows on a rescued orchard in Cumberland.
“We have a lot of customers who don’t even have cars. … We have customers who couldn’t have gotten to us if we didn’t get to them,” he said. “We get to meet them on their doorstep. We get to chat.”
Now, distillery owners, farm breweries, wineries and other alcoholic beverage industry players are lobbying the legislature to make that change permanent. Hogan’s order, which remains in place as long as Maryland is in a state of emergency, allowed businesses that sell alcoholic beverages, such as restaurants and bars, to deliver alcohol statewide.
The deliveries encourage customers to drink at home instead of in groups, furthering the state’s efforts to promote social distancing and other quarantine protocols, the order said. Harner, 37, who runs the business with his brother-in-law Nate Groenendyk, now makes 15-20 deliveries a week, often on his bike when weather permits. Many of those deliveries are two to three miles from the distillery.
“We’re close to D.C. There are a lot of people who live here,” he said. “Even after the pandemic is over, that demand in Maryland from consumers is still going to be there.”
Senate bill 821 would create a $100 permit for many alcoholic beverage manufacturers, such as wineries and farm breweries, to sell their products at their facility and statewide. The permit requires that deliveries be made by a company employee at least 18 years old.
It would also remove some limits on take-out sales. Class 1 distilleries, for instance, would no longer limit sales of beverages to 2.25 liters to people who participated in a tour of the distillery. The bill would lift that limit and the distillery could sell to anyone of drinking age. It also significantly expands the quantities of beer breweries and microbreweries with a limited-beer wholesaler’s license can sell in a year.
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Katie Fry Hester, D-Howard County, and Jason C. Gallion, R-Harford. A state fiscal analysis of the bill said it could grow sales for many beverage manufacturers. It’s critical to establishments, particularly those in rural regions, which made much of their money bringing customers into their taprooms, said Kelly Dudeck, chief strategy officer for Grow & Fortify, which manages several state producer associations within the industry.
“Their tap rooms have been closed,” she said. Hogan’s order “enabled them to sort of expand their portfolio of ways to sell.”
But they can’t count on it until it’s made permanent. It’s essential to businesses like Harner’s, which is still too small to easily secure retail distribution across the region.
“It’s been a lifesaver for us,” he said. “And it can be lifesaving moving forward for a lot of businesses who have really struggled throughout this period.”