(May 1, 2015) With a mandated reorganization still less than a year old, his sales reduced by 35 percent, a county commissioner calling openly for the dissolution of his department and an exit strategy planned by the board behind closed doors, good news has been rare for Bobby Cowger, the director of the county Liquor Control Department.
Cowger, a spirited and perhaps irascible defender of his department, has crossed swords with equally intense commissioner Joe Mitrecic each time they have been in the same room together.
So it was with a certain measure of pride last week that he was able to deliver the message that, on a recommendation from Comptroller Peter Franchot’s office, he was able to sign an exclusive one-year contract with Craft Wine and Spirits of Maryland, a regional distributor out of Beltsville, to supply Worcester, Somerset and Wicomico counties.
Cowger estimates 75 percent of the estimated $300,000 business will be in retail sales, in one of the many shops the department operates within the county, while the remaining business will be wholesale.
“These aren’t your rail items — they’re not the cheap stuff,” he said.
The 35 items he intends to supply from the Craft Wine and Spirits’ catalogue of 95 selections will get pride of placement in the stores and launch a massive advertising campaign, kicking off with a May 4 event at the Ocean City Marlin Club. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., licensees are invited to sample the stock along with free hors d’ oeuvres.
If certain spirits don’t perform as well as expected, Cowger said he has more than enough selection to replace them from the catalogue.
Most of the items Cowger said he intends to stock will come from the liquor side of operations, and not so much of the wine.
A sales representative for the territory will be hired, Cowger said.
“We want to work with the county because it’s their living room,” Shannon Crisp, co-founder of Craft Wine and Spirits, said.
Primarily, Crisp said, he does business on the western shore but began fielding a number of calls asking for service on the Eastern Shore. Not knowing much about the area, Crisp said he put a call into the comptroller’s office seeking guidance, which referred him to Cowger.
“There is an existing system in place that’s worked for decades, where we would have to start from zero,” he said.
Deals like this one are Cowger’s preferred method of doing business from this point forward. He said he’s restructured the department out of necessity, but also to serve smaller businesses.
“We’ve written off the 35 percent of business we lost and we’re going to do whatever we can to cater to the bars we still serve to ensure they’re strong and profitable,” Cowger said, “We’re perfectly content with that.”
And exactly what kind of products does Craft Wine and Spirits offer? The small batch creations of little distilleries from around the country that turn out everything from tequila and aged gin to prize-winning bourbon and highly praised rye whiskey, such as Few Spirits Rye Whiskey from Evanston, Ill., which Whiskey Advocate in 2103 gave a Craft Whiskey of the Year Award.