This content is sponsored by the Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services.
After getting hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and enduring such a tragic and trying year, business owners in Maryland are hoping for a bright start in 2021 as consumers recover, look to the future and use their dollars to lift up entrepreneurs in their communities.
There are a lot of opportunities for shoppers to make that their New Year’s resolution in Montgomery County, which is home to 19 local breweries, wineries and distilleries.
“Making a New Year’s resolution to shop ‘Maryland Made’ and keeping that money right here in the local community is really quite powerful,” said Melissa Davis, senior marketing officer for Alcohol Beverage Services, the department that is responsible for wholesale distribution of alcohol, operates more than two dozen retail stores that sell alcohol and manages alcohol licensing, enforcement and education for more than 1,000 businesses in Montgomery County.
When consumers purchase alcohol products that are manufactured in Maryland as opposed to somewhere else, six times more revenue stays directly in the state, according to Kevin Atticks, founder of Grow & Fortify, an organization that supports Maryland alcohol manufacturers.
That’s why ABS launched the “Maryland Made” initiative, drawing attention to locally produced spirits, wine and beer and urging Marylanders to actively seek out those products whenever they order from a restaurant or shop in a store.
The effort has been a remarkable success, thanks in part to a promotion in November when ABS offered 10% off all Maryland-made spirits to shoppers at their county-owned retail stores.
There are 26 of those stores across Montgomery County.
“In November of 2019 we had about $30,000 in sales for that one month on Maryland-made spirits,” Davis explained. “When you fast-forward one year, it was more than $87,000 in sales in November of 2020.”
That year-over-year increase was stunning.
“It means there’s pent-up demand for our consumers,” said Davis. “When you start to look at the gains that are being made by local providers, it’s honestly amazing.”
New projects and partnerships
As a result of that pent-up demand, unique partnerships have started to emerge between business owners and leaders within ABS.
In December, for the first time ever, ABS collaborated with a Maryland brewery on a project to design and create a product that was sold exclusively in ABS stores. It was a beer called “Funky Manhattan,” produced by the Derwood-based True Respite Brewing Company.
“As a small, local business, every sale is a lifeline that helps us keep our staff working and our rent paid,” said True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary. “Businesses like ours have never been more vulnerable and we’re incredibly grateful to those who are choosing local first.”
ABS also cultivated new relationships with local businesses through special “barrel selections,” when the department works with a distillery to sample, select and purchase a specific barrel that fits a particular taste profile.
Typically, ABS has worked on those deals with larger, national whiskey companies. But that’s been changing recently, with several barrel selections coming straight from Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit Distillery.
“Our retail team is creating some unique partnerships with our local providers and consumers have really enjoyed them,” said Davis, who noted that the Sagamore barrel selections “taste different from any other Sagamore you can get anywhere in the country.”
Another strategy ABS implemented as a way to focus more on local businesses has been to simply order heftier-than-normal shipments from Maryland manufacturers including Lyon Distilling in St. Michaels, which produces Lyon Rum.
“Words can’t begin to convey how much this large order means to us,” said the company’s CEO Jaime Windon. “Not only have we wanted to be stocked in the county stores to meet the needs of our customers, but to get such a significant order for our spirits in this time, during the national COVID-19 crisis, gives me more hope and peace of mind than you can possibly know.”
Overall, Maryland is home to roughly 20 distilleries, 80 wineries and 100 breweries that collectively support thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in state revenue.
“It’s really about having people think local first and put that kind of intentionality into their shopping,” said Davis. “If we can plant those seeds for local products, with people asking questions about them and buying them, all boats are going to rise.”