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Diving into the liquor shortage as one of many lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 9:36 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - One of the big lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the economic impact felt by many businesses and industries. The latest blow is a liquor shortage.

Anthony Kearey owns several bars and restaurants in the Charlotte area. He says he’s been having trouble getting brand name products like Tito’s, Jack Daniels, and Crown Royal.

He explained what’s happening to WBTV’s Alex Giles.

Alex: Were you surprised when you first started hearing about the supply chain issues and liquor shortage?

Anthony: The first couple days, yes. It is a part of this entire crazy year of the Coronavirus. I liken it just to how the hand sanitizer issues happened during Coronavirus, or when the shelves were out of toilet paper or milk. It’s the exact thing that happened to us. All the bars and restaurants get going again, so we’re sort of sucking up all the available inventory. But the liquor companies, they all closed during Coronavirus because no one could be working in the factories. No one could be making the glass bottles or the plastic lids or the labels or anything like that, let alone making the liquor or putting it into boxes or driving a forklift to put it in a truck or drive the truck.

Alex: When you guys try to do bulk orders for big name liquor brands, how does that work? Are you just told, “We don’t have it right now”? Are you put on a long wait list?

Anthony: No. Normally, we’ll try to pick it up from the different stores of the ABC. Mecklenburg ABC has done a very good job of communicating to us, especially in the beginning when it was getting bad. Like, “Hey guys, this is coming down the pipeline, these are the issues happening”. So, it wasn’t like it was a complete shot in the dark. It’s just a complete breakdown of the system. It has to restart making glass bottles or making plastic caps or making the boxes and getting the liquor and putting them into the truck and then driving the trucks. So, it’s not a quick one-week fix. It’s probably a few months to really get the supply chain back up and running.

Kearey says one of the ways he’s trying to keep his shelves stocked is by turning to local distilleries.

It still comes through North Carolina’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, but it’s easier to get than some of the popular brands that are shipped nationwide.

“We realized, hey let’s support local,” Kearey says, “Why are we spending our money buying products from all over the country, when we can literally reinvest in our own city?”

He gets some of his liquor from Great Wagon Road Distilling. They operate out of NoDa. Ollie Mulligan runs the operation. He says he’s also dealing with supply chain issues. He’s had to get creative with some of his products, but he loves getting local support.

Ollie: A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a great vodka, a great local whiskey, a great local single malt, a great local gin that they can buy in all their ABC stores or come to the distillery and get it. It’s just a mindset change.

Alex: What were the supply chain issues you guys were experiencing?

Ollie: Usually you just get enough as you need to make this batch and then your order more to make your next batch, but our suppliers just ran out of bottles. They were saying it’s three, four months to get bottles. Before, it would be the next day and that week pretty much. But we’ve got some good relationships with these guys and they’re able to say “Well, we have this bottle that’s almost the same as this one”. It takes a screw top, not a cork. So, we’ve survived that way. For the foreseeable future, this product and this product and this one will all be in this bottle.

Alex: How frustrating is that?

Ollie: It is frustrating, but it’s been a hell of a year. You know, you just take it in your stride. Well, OK, we’re not gonna stop. What have you got? We don’t have anything. Alright, you go to another supplier. What have you got? You just make do. You just get by. You just gotta keep going. I’m too stupid to quit. (laughs) That’s what I tell everybody.

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