As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches its tentacles into communities across the country, it’s no secret that small businesses have been hit hard. From house cleaners, to boutique grocers, to clothing stores, nearly every line of business has felt the impact. But the emphasis on social distancing and self-quarantining has been especially devastating for gathering-oriented businesses that are explicitly premised upon people congregating together.
This means that our nation’s craft beverage producers and sellers (breweries, distilleries, restaurants, and bars) are feeling extra pain. In fact, some breweries have already made the decision to permanently close  as a result of the pandemic. For those that are trying to survive, most have switched over to full-time, take-out, and delivery service of their booze.
The problem? Many locales unduly and severely restrict or prohibit alcohol delivery and shipment. Now, COVID-19 is demonstrating in vivid form that it’s time to revisit and repeal these rules.
In response to self-quarantining, food and drink establishments around the country have closed their dining rooms and taprooms, and shifted to take-out and delivery. According to data obtained by the New York Times  from delivery service Drizly, alcohol delivery sales (where they’re allowed) have spiked in response to the pandemic. But sadly, booze delivery and to-go sales are currently confined only to certain places. For instance, as prominent food personality and chef David Chang noted , states such as New York allow alcohol delivery from apps and retail stores but do not permit restaurants and bars to sell most forms of alcohol in takeout form.
To their credit, liquor regulators in New York  (as well as Texas  and D.C. ) have responded by temporarily waiving and redefining their rules to allow restaurants to serve alcoholic drinks in a to-go or delivery format. Unfortunately, most of these locales still require food to be part of any takeout order, meaning that cocktail bars or wine bars are unable to benefit from the change. While this focus on restaurants and bars is a step in the right direction, few governments have changed their rules regarding alcohol shipments or on-demand delivery directly from producers or liquor stores.
This means that people’s ability to get alcohol delivered to their door ,and the ability of breweries, distilleries, and other alcohol retailers to survive, largely depends on the arbitrariness of where they’re located. For instance, states such as Oregon  and Virginia  smartly allow breweries with off-premise licenses to deliver their beer directly to consumers. But getting a delivery from Virginia’s government-run ABC liquor retail stores is still not possible. This means that sales of distilled spirits could be cut off completely  if these stores are forced to close temporarily, as happened recently when Pennsylvania closed  its government-run liquor stores as a result of the crisis.
States such as Georgia are also behind the times, as on-demand alcohol delivery from retail stores and producers is not permitted. While a bill to fix the former is pending in the state legislature , the best state regulators have been able to muster during the pandemic  is to allow takeout or pick-up orders of beer, but not delivery.
Laws against long-distance interstate shipments of alcohol can be even more restrictive than on-demand delivery rules. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures , only five states permit direct shipments of all types of spirits, and only eight allow beer shipments. While most states allow direct wine shipments across state lines from wineries, they often restrict retail stores from shipping.
Put simply, expecting small craft producers to survive while closing off the most readily available way to get their beverages to customers is to expect the impossible. the result could be mass layoffs from breweries or distilleries—or even permanent closure.
While governments should consider expediting temporary waivers of alcohol delivery restrictions during the quarantine, greater shipping and delivery flexibility should also be made permanent. Public health experts have been warning for years , long before the coronavirus pandemic, that pandemic risks are continuing to heighten in this age of accelerating international travel and interconnectivity. Hopefully COVID-19 will come and go, but the potential remains for future self-quarantining situations based on new epidemics in the years to come. One of the key methods of readiness in such situations is a durable, dynamic modern economy that utilizes direct shipments to those responsibly practicing social distancing and self-quarantining practices.
Even in a pandemic-free world, allowing alcohol delivery would be a win-win that helps both producers and consumers. In an era where you can get nearly any product under the sun delivered to your door within a few hours, it makes little sense to exclude alcohol. In the coming months and years, craft beverage producers and retailers, and consumers desiring a stiff drink as they’re cooped up at home, may come to depend on it.
- “permanently close”: https://www.facebook.com/DRAGONHOPS/posts/1128349337499250
- “obtained by the New York Times”: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/us/coronavirus-alcohol-sales.html
- “noted”: https://twitter.com/davelu/status/1239340629190008833
- “liquor regulators in New York”: https://ny.eater.com/2020/3/17/21182052/new-york-state-liquor-authority-restaurant-laws-coronavirus
- “Texas”: https://www.fox5dc.com/news/dc-council-approves-alcohol-delivery-takeout-during-covid-19-closings
- “D.C.”: https://www.fox5dc.com/news/dc-council-approves-alcohol-delivery-takeout-during-covid-19-closings
- “Oregon”: https://www.newschoolbeer.com/2020/03/breweries-turn-to-home-delivery-in-wake-of-covid-19-shutdown.html
- “Virginia”: https://twitter.com/VirginiaABC/status/1240404746219016195
- “cut off completely”: https://twitter.com/VirginiaABC/status/1240031757862395909
- “closed”: http://www.drinksreform.org/blog-1/2020/3/19/how-the-alcohol-industry-is-dealing-with-covid-19-and-how-the-government-can-help
- “pending in the state legislature”: https://www.ajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/home-delivery-beer-wine-approved-georgia-house/Ki97EEVUJ4IuEuBSf6KEfN/
- “during the pandemic”: https://dor.georgia.gov/rule-560-2-3-03-place-sale-or-delivery-goods
- “National Conference of State Legislatures”: https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/direct-shipment-of-alcohol-state-statutes.aspx
- “warning for years”: https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/03/health/pandemic-risk-virus-bacteria/index.html