Interview: Craft Distilling in a Time of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus challenged craft producers around the world to react and adapt. In Pilot Point, TX, Western Son Distillery — a 2020 Growth Brand Winner — was surprised by the sudden pandemic like everybody else. How they reacted after this initial shock was another story. For that, we recently spoke with Erin King, Western Son director of brand marketing & on-premise.

Beverage Dynamics: How have you responded to COVID-19?

Erin King: As soon as it hit us we thought, ‘What does this mean for protecting our employees?’ One of the biggest things we’re proud of is that we’re now eight weeks into this pandemic and we have not had to furlough anyone. That includes sales team, marketing and operations. Pilot Point is a small town outside of a big city [1 hour north of Dallas]. A lot of locals work hourly jobs in our production and distribution center, and depend on this work. 130 people work onsite. It was important that we kept their hours going.

On the other side, we were really able to help our local-level first responders. Local police, fire departments and hospitals were calling us, asking whether we were making hand sanitizer. They couldn’t find it and were down to their last bottles.

Within six days we had our first bottle of hand sanitizer bottled, labeled and distributed to first responders. Thousands and thousands of bottles. It was the people in the production facility who pulled it off.

We bottled in 50-ml. bottles, because the first responders were saying they needed it more on an individual level. This way they have access to hand sanitizer that they can keep in their car or vehicle. They’re in and out so much that they might not have access to soap and water.

That’s how we’ve been handling COVID-19. With a big-picture, 360-degrees holistic model. We’re happy to keep people employed, and help the community, and feel lucky that we didn’t have to pick and choose.

BD: How have you been able to keep your production facility open?

EK: We are still not allowing any outside visitors. Employees must wear a mask, and have their temperature taken every morning. No one is exempt. Luckily, we have not had any instances of employees getting sick.

We foresee this being in place for the foreseeable future. We’re not opening the hospitality side of our business until we see the rest of the country opening up.

This has been a great opportunity for us to work with local restaurants and eateries, creating curbside cocktail kits for them. It’s been a cool experience, as everyone is getting creative to keep revenue coming in. Alcohol is something that people are still consuming, and there is still a need there.

Western Son Distillery delivered hand sanitizer to local first responders.

BD: What are you seeing at retail level?

EK: The initial stockpiling has leveled out a little bit, but we’re still seeing consistency. People are buying the brands that they’re comfortable with. Western Son is lucky to have built our brand already on the retail level. We’re keeping both independents and chain stores well stocked.

BD: We’re seeing vodka purchases rising during the pandemic.

EK: That goes back to consumers right now liking what’s comfortable, tried and true. Vodka and soda, you can’t really screw that up. It’s about simplicity. You don’t have to be an experienced bartender to create something with vodka that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

This interview was edited and condensed for publication.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece How Liquor Stores Adapted to the COVID-19 Crisis.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent interview. Congratulations to Western Son on your success – a Growth Brands award winner for several years and a winner in your community during this pandemic crisis. I applaud you and your team!

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