About five months after distilleries closed their doors to the public to stop the spread of the distilleries new type coronavirus pandemic Many have begun to reopen for tours and tastings. Of course, it's not quite business as usual: the distillers have made significant changes, taking into account the guidelines for social distancing and safety.
'You have to think outside of what would have worked before,' says Amy Eckstein, owner of Deerhammer Distilling Company in Buena Vista, Colorado. 'We said take everything off the table and figure out what's going to work under these pretty strict regulations.'
Photo courtesy of Garrison Brothers Distillery
Of course, policies vary widely from state to state and in some cases even regionally.
Many distilleries, including Deerhammer, have moved tasting and cocktail room activities outdoors to more easily comply with social distancing guidelines.
'Our tasting room is so small that everyone is six feet apart and there are two people in it,' Eckstein says. For this purpose, a backloading dock was set up with tables and chairs to provide more spacious seating than the usual patio area could offer.
Some distilleries have gotten creative in making outdoor drinks enticing. North Charleston Firefly Distillery – which opened a new space in February only to have to close it in March – now serves cocktails from an Airstream trailer that guests can enjoy at outdoor picnic tables. The distillery also hosted an eight-week outdoor concert series called “Safe Sounds,” where guests purchased a 10 × 10 square of sports field paint from which to enjoy drinks, food and music.
Many distilleries whose seating is expensive also require advance reservations. When North Shore Distillery On 29. May plant reopened in Green Oaks, Ill. The number of available seats went from 75 to 16. All were outdoors.
'We've always had outdoor seating, but it's rarely been used,' says co-founder/co-owner Sonja Kassebaum. 'We had to implement a reservation system to track requests for tables'.'
North Shore has also updated service so that cocktails are brought in cocktail shakers on trays from the bar to tables about 30 feet away. The drinks are then poured at the table. Other changes include daily temperature checks for employees, mandatory training for employees to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and additional cleaning and sanitizing measures.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Distillery
'Suffice it to say, for only 16 seats, it was a lot of extra work,' Kassebaum says. 'But it's what we have to do, and what we think is right under the circumstances'.'
Distilleries are also trying to navigate tours and classes that are typically held indoors. Some turn to technology for solutions. When Virginia Distillery In Lovingston, Virginia, was founded on 19. June the visitor center reopened. Guests could scan QR codes with their phones to activate videos about whiskies sampled during a tasting session. The distillery has since reopened its closed visitor center, but is currently planning to reopen in September.
Photo courtesy of Garrison Brothers
Hye, Texas-based Garrison Brothers offers drive-through bottle sales and cocktails to go, but does not do tours. June, the distillery unveiled an “immersive virtual distillery tour” for a special Father's Day offering, accompanied by a cocktail kit.
In general, visitors to distilleries can now expect some constants in the name of safety: reduced hours (“After 8, people know each other and want to talk,” notes Deerhammer's Eckstein. 'We used to close at 10'. Now we close at 8.') Hand sanitizer Everywhere face masks, usually mandatory for employees and strongly recommended for visitors and contactless payment options.
Less often seen, but just as important: a sense of humor. In addition to lighthearted signage (“Share Whisky not Covid”), for example, Deerhammer keeps a bucket of six-foot-long bamboo “social distancing sticks” on hand to swing when tasting room guests need a reminder to give each other some space .
'It's more of a joke, and it's easier than telling people not to congregate,' Eckstein says.
It does the trick, but also has the advantage of causing laughter and even the occasional laugh Social Media Post . 'We need to breathe some light into this dark situation,' she says.