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We get to the bottom of the barrel of ABC’s apparent liquor shortage.
Where’s all the rum (and gin, vodka, bourbon, whiskey and tequila…) gone? You may have started to see a shortage of some of your favorite liquor bottles at North Carolina ABC stores and local bars and restaurants—as if the last year-plus hasn’t dealt us enough.
Some of these liquor shortages actually began at the start of the pandemic (perhaps it was all that quarantine drinking?), but have continued due to production delays and supply chain issues at facilities all over the country—and internationally as well. That, combined with a new statewide ABC ordering system that was implemented during the annual inventory shutdown in late June (which lasted about a week—during which suppliers are unable to place orders), resulted in impacted orders and sales for distilleries throughout the state.
Closeby, Durham Distillery’s American Dry Gin went out of stock in ABC stores in Durham for three weeks in late July and in Wake County for two weeks, remembers Melissa Katrincic, co-owner of Durham Distillery (makers of Conniption).
To add to this “perfect storm” of issues, glass, labels and lids (as well as truck drivers who distribute product—yet another staffing shortage issue) are all scarce as well, as are some ingredients that go into the liquor, including agave, rice, corn and wheat.
“Most distilleries nationwide were not classified as exempt employees,” explains Bryan Hicks, general manager of the Wake County ABC Board. “Work ceased on their end; however, customers still came to stores to purchase their products. Bars and restaurants were closed and people still wanted to drink. Demand eventually caught up with the supply, hence the problems some are seeing.”
Bringing insight on the hospitality impact, Dram & Draught co-owner Kevin Barrett says he has had to navigate the liquor shortage as well, experiencing issues sourcing bottles for his three locations, including the bar’s new location in Downtown Durham, which opened in late August. “We are having trouble getting random liquors, it’s hard to predict,” says Barrett. “It’s a raw materials shortage caused by a labor shortage caused by a global pandemic. It’s just another hurdle to get over these days.”
Hicks says that it’s been tricky handling the situation. Ninety percent of Wake County ABC’s business is retail, while the other 10% makes up “mixed beverage” (bars, clubs, restaurants, etc.). “Do we set aside a certain amount of liquor for mixed beverage?” Hicks contemplates. “We’ve tried to do our best to see what the demand is and balance it all out.”
Despite the struggles, Hicks says Wake County ABC is doing everything they can to keep the shelves stocked, requesting direct shipments and ordering more product from local distilleries in an effort to ease the stress at the state warehouse (and support local—a win-win!). “Customers may not find their favorite national product, but could always go for a North Carolina product as an alternative,” says Hicks. “Hopefully this will help booster distillers in Wake County, Durham County and statewide.”
So die-hard fans of certain brands may have to settle for something else temporarily (or drive out-of-state … worth it?!). Look, we’re not trying to create hysteria and make booze the next toilet paper, but we will say, if you find your favorite bottle on the shelf, why wait?
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