Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the state of California has been diligent in its promotion of social distancing. But last week it showed it can be a bit more forgiving when it comes to social lubricating, a.k.a. the enjoyment of adult beverages.
Last week, the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) announced that it would temporarily relax its rules to allow, among other things, takeout and curbside orders of cocktails and draft beer.
The “regulatory relief,” as ABC referred to it, gives a fighting chance to businesses such as pubs and breweries to stay afloat during the abrupt economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
Previously, it was illegal to order a cocktail for delivery with your pizza. Now, as long as food is included in the order, it’s fine for established businesses to bring a fresh batch of margaritas to any doorstep in its delivery area.
Some Santa Cruz County businesses are already enacting these new liberties. The Parish Publick House, with locations in Santa Cruz and Aptos, has just begun serving takeout cocktails, namely their house margarita as well as a lavender sour and a chamomile sour, served in lidded mason jars and sold in batches of four drinks ($27) or six drinks ($32), each ready to imbibe. On weekends, Parish will expand its offerings to include a Bloody Mary and a John Daly (lemonade, iced tea and vodka; and yes, it’s named after the hard-partying golfer).
“All this stuff is on a see-how-it-goes basis,” says Erik Granath, one of the pub’s owners. Parish has also begun serving canned cocktails made by Santa Cruz-based Venus Spirits.
Lupulo Craft Beer House in downtown Santa Cruz is initiating a similar program with draft beers.
“It was definitely a big surprise for us,” says Lupulo co-owner Stuyvesant Bearns Esteva of the ABC announcement.
Lupulo will soon begin serving its tap beers in mason jars for pickup or delivery. “It allows us to sell off our existing inventory rather than just sitting on it,” says fellow co-owner Noelle Antolin. “Our business model is that freshness is key. This has made it so we can sell the beers we already have in inventory, and the margins for us are much more favorable with kegs than they are with bottles or cans.”
Esteva says Lupulo will develop some kind of system that allows regulars to return their jars for refill. “We’re going to try to figure out something where this will be X’s mason jar that we’ll tag with their name. Necessity is the mother of invention, you know.”
Parish will also be stepping up a new program next week in which they’ll deliver their draft beer in plastic growlers (a bottle or jug that holds either 32 or 64 ounces). Granath says that, without the ability to sell cocktails or draft beer, their business these days would be little more than “a liquor store with food.” Being able to market their extensive draft brews allows them to achieve some level of normalcy.
“With our business in general, about 80% of the stuff we sell is off our taps,” he says. “Our bottle list is pretty static. But our drafts are how we’ve established ourselves.”
Peter Bargetto of Soquel Vineyards says that the wine industry is not much affected by the relaxation of the rules because wine consumers usually prefer to order wine by the bottle instead of the glass.
Other rules suspended by ABC include restrictions on accepting payments for alcoholic products—existing law prohibits the sale of alcohol off the premises of the licensed business, while the relaxing of the law means consumers can pay for their beverages on their doorsteps—as well as extension of credit and aspects of business-to-business transactions.
Even with the relaxed rules on to-go draft beers and cocktails, no one at local brew pubs is in the mood for celebrating. Lupulo had to close its doors on St. Patrick’s Day, a particularly beer-friendly holiday. The pub has kept on most of its 24 employees, at least on a part-time basis.
“We’ve kinda had to reinvent our business model in one day to make it so that we could at least give our employees some shifts every week to help them survive,” Esteva says.
Even with a robust to-go service, Lupulo is generating a small fraction of the revenues that it does in normal times. This new model is clearly a stopgap measure. “Lupulo will not be turning into a drive-thru liquor store,” Antolin says.
Erik Granath of Parish Publick House says takeout orders and online delivery run counter to the foundation of his business, which is predicated on providing a place for people to meet and socialize.
“Our regulars have been great so far,” he says. “But our whole business is based on people gathering together in one spot. If you can’t gather in one spot, it takes away exactly what we do. It’s definitely tough times. We have a pretty robust happy hour. We’ve always been a popular neighborhood spot. But when people can’t congregate, that’s pretty much the ballgame. So, we’re doing our best to keep it together until we’re past this thing, whatever that means.”
Check out our continually updating list of local takeout and delivery options.