Alabama craft breweries push for door-to-door deliveries when ordering ‘door-to-door’
Dan Perry’s craft breweries had been selling curbside food and beer since mid-March, but the governor’s stay-at-home order issued a week ago may have been the last. call for now.
Forced to lay off 63 people, the Straight to Ale taprooms in downtown Huntsville and Druid City Brewing in Tuscaloosa are quiet. The kegs are full, but there are few customers for the beers.
Perry and others in his industry as well as downtown advocates see an easy fix. Unlike restaurants and other industries in Alabama, Alabama’s more than 50 craft breweries are at a distinct disadvantage compared to the competition – they can’t get their products to a customer’s doorstep.
“It seems like an easy and straightforward request,” Perry said. “So far he has been met ‘not yet’.”
Chad Emerson, President and CEO of Downtown Huntsville Inc., in a AL.com Opinion piece last week, urged Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to use his emergency powers to allow door-to-door deliveries. He noted that since the start of the pandemic, governors of other southeastern states – Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia – did.
“It’s about saving jobs and keeping businesses open,” Emerson said. “The sidewalk is available, but staying at home is counterintuitive. “
The governor’s office referred the comments to the Alabama Alcohol Control Board.
Dean Argo, spokesperson for the ABC Board, said state law prohibiting the delivery or shipment of alcohol to a private residence requires legislative action to be overturned.
“The Alabama ABC Board recently enacted an emergency rule that gives on-site licenses some flexibility to sell alcohol with ‘take out’ orders,” Argo said. “However, the rules, regulations and emergency rules of the ABC board of directors do not and cannot prevail over state law.”
Angling for state aid
Alabama craft brewers are hoping the governor’s office will consider throwing a lifeline to them while the stay-at-home order is in place.
“The delivery will not replace sales of the tap room and draft beer,” said Dan Roberts, executive director of the Alabama Brewers Guild, who estimates that a typical craft brewery generates 72% to over 90% of sales inside the tap room.
“I know that nationwide almost half (of craft breweries) will not be able to last less than three months under current conditions,” Roberts said. “I think Alabama is probably the same thing. But, I guess, my thing on delivery is that while it won’t save them all, it will help some. And it would also help some restaurants to sell a few more items when they are driving people dinner. “
Legislation is pending in Montgomery that would allow home deliveries of wine and beer. But similar proposals have been presented to state lawmakers in the past, not to move forward.
Alabama, among the very few states that do not allow direct wine shipments, formed a nine-member working group last year to investigate the matter. Alabama is one of only three states in the United States to have a law prohibiting the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages of any kind (Utah and Oklahoma are the others).
State Representative Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, said the CBA board of directors is working well with state officials to allow curbside alcohol deliveries under the provisions previous reports relating to coronaviruses which limited the number of people gathered at the same time to 10.
But lawmakers are not due to return to Montgomery until April 28, and it is uncertain whether the legislation will surface for scrutiny. The Ivey home stay order is valid until April 30 at 5 p.m.
Reynolds said he hopes some sort of exception can be made for craft breweries.
“Anything we can do to help our small businesses, craft breweries and distilleries we have to give them every chance to survive,” Reynolds said.
Lobby for an exception
Defenders in downtown Huntsville and Mobile are hoping heads of state can step in and make a home delivery exception for struggling small craft breweries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emerson said the change would allow craft brewery workers to deliver packaged beer to people. Upon delivery, the customer will show his ID to prove that he is 21 years old.
“It’s about saving jobs and keeping businesses open,” he said.
Carol Hunter, spokesperson for Downtown Mobile Inc., said Mobile’s craft breweries also need help since most of them are new businesses that have opened within the last couple of years. Like Emerson, she would like the delivery option to be allowed during the pandemic.
“They were losing money and having cash flow issues before the state ordered home,” Hunter said. “Technically, I guess they could be opened for sidewalking. But with a stay at home order, we don’t encourage people to go out. “
Neil Reid, professor of geography and planning at the University of Toledo, who enjoys a reputation as “Beer teacherand studied the craft brewery boom in the United States, said Alabama is an outlier in not allowing door-to-door deliveries.
“State after state is adjusting the regulations for door-to-door delivery and curbside pick-up,” Reid said.
The ban in Alabama comes at a time when grocery delivery apps like Instacart and Birmingham based Shipt are seeing an increase in demand for deliveries of alcoholic beverages. Drizly, an alcoholic beverage delivery company, saw explosive 1,600% year-over-year new customer growth at the end of March.
As Reid notes, some southern states like Alabama have been “historically very slow in (accepting) alcohol in general and craft breweries in particular.”
Statistics released by the Brewers Association show that Alabama’s craft brewing industry, while relatively small, has an economic impact.
According to the 2018 figures of the association, the state had approximately 1.1 breweries per 100,000 population, ranking it 49th out of 50 states. At that time, Alabama had 41 craft breweries.
But the industry’s economic impact in Alabama was about $ 758 million that year, placing the state in 29th place. The breweries pumped out 71,894 barrels of craft beer that year, which was good enough for the 39th.
Reid said without delivery options, however, small operations that contribute to fuel rejuvenation in urban neighborhoods could be at risk.
“The biggest breweries that are able to take things out and in the supermarkets are the ones that are able to do better,” he said.
Perry, of Straight to Ale, said his business was no different, with valve room sales contributing the lion’s share of the business.
Without people inside businesses, alternatives such as door-to-door deliveries are needed.
“Delivery is a simple request and it puzzles me,” Perry said. “I totally understand the fact that we are just brewers in this business and that the (coronavirus pandemic) is much bigger. But a simple solution to save forty companies in this state seems obvious. “