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New craft booze supplier offers tasting to vendors

(May 15, 2015) A week after County Liquor Control Department Director Bobby Cowger announced the department’s one-year exclusive contract with distributor Craft Wine and Spirits of Maryland, a campaign was already under way to spread the gospel of craft spirits in the county.

Raul Mejia of Craft Wine and Spirits of Maryland, left, Worcester County Liquor Control Department Director Bobby Cowger and Shannon Crisp of Craft Wine and Spirits of Maryland greeted guests at the Marlin Club on Monday, May 4 during a kickoff event promoting the county’s new exclusive contract with the distributor. [JOSH DAVIS/PHOTO]
The department took a major hit last year, when for the first time since the end of Prohibition county liquor license holders were allowed to buy spirits from wholesalers rather than having to deal exclusively with the county dispensary.

Cowger, along with several reps from Craft Wine and Spirits, were on hand at the Marlin Club last Monday during what served as an official launch of a countywide advertising campaign aimed at retailers.

“I think it’s going to be additional business for us – it’s not going to take away from products that we’re selling now,” Cowger said. “With the change in the law and with us losing business to the Maryland wholesalers where we compete with them now, we needed to pick up some new revenue and I think this is certainly going to do that.”

Representatives from Craft Wine and Spirits poured samples of whiskey, vodka, gin, rum and moonshine from labels such as Belmont Farm Distillery from Culpeper, Va., FEW Spirits from Evanston, Ill., Louisiana Spirits Distillery and Alaska Distillery.

Raul Mejia, a partner with the company, said the deal with the county would offer a different value to consumers.

“Just to be able to bring out something that’s small and local gives [retailers] something a little bit additional to be able to take out to their customers, where a lot of these other distributors only have those big-name brands,” he said. “It’s a little bit of added value.”

The intent of craft distillers, sales rep Patty Bilboro suggested, is what sets craft distillers apart from the bigger labels.

“They’re with the process from start to finish, so they’re not just churning out massive barrels of whiskey without thinking about anything other than money. The smaller guys put a lot of care into what they do,” she said. “For consumers, there’s a lot to explore, because you can really experiment with doing small-batch things. There’s a lot of creativity coming out.”

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who was in Berlin on Monday, originally suggested that Cowger explore a deal with Craft Wine and Spirits.

Among Franchot’s duties as comptroller is the regulation of alcohol at the state level.

“Anything we can do to promote new craft distilleries we will,” he said. “They fit right in with the craft brewers, and most of the wineries around the state are really craft sellers. I’m a huge fan of all of that, and particularly I think the spirits have a bright future.”

Franchot said the economic impact of wineries was notable in the state, adding that craft brewers are increasingly providing a boost to the economy.

“The distilleries are just getting started, but they will play a big part,” he said. “They have a very positive impact. People want these craft products because the big name brands are just not increasing in sales. This is a great way to interest the consumer.”

As for the impact on the jobs market?

“It definitely helps,” Franchot said. “Some of these distilleries are connected to restaurants and they obviously promote each other.”


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