Santiam Brewing co-owner Jim Smiley, left, delivers a food and drink order to the home of Dan Valles on Friday, April 10. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
When Salem residents were stuck at home during the pandemic shut-down order, Santiam Brewing started making house calls.
Jim Smiley, the co-owner of Santiam Brewery, said the brewery previously used its two vans to bring kegs and cases of beer to retailers. But with things closed down the brewery began using them to deliver IPAs and other beers as well as its British-style pub fare directly to customers’ homes.
“It was kind of our lifeblood at that point,” he said.
After bars and restaurants reopened in Marion County in May, Smiley said delivery service has slowed down but is still substantial enough to remain part of the brewery’s business.
The same could be true for other similar businesses as the way Oregonians purchase beer, wine, cider and spirits could change permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is considering a new administrative rule that would make it easier for breweries and others to deliver their products to customers.
As bars and restaurants closed in March because of the pandemic, the commission adopted an emergency rule, easing regulations around the delivery of alcohol. The rules allowed businesses that already have licenses to sell beer, wine or cider to-go to deliver their products to customers at the curbside.
The commission also fast-tracked applications for other bars and restaurants to sell beer, wine and cider to-go.
The emergency rule is set to expire this fall and the commission is currently taking steps to make many of its provisions permanent. Oregon already allows for limited home delivery of beer, wine, cider and spirits. The new rule would make it easier for these businesses to do so.
Many of these businesses are only allowed to do next-day delivery of their products and needed to get special approval for same-day delivery. The new rule would make it easier for these businesses to be approved for same-day delivery.
Smiley said Santiam Brewing, located at 2544 19th St S.E., was at an advantage for home delivery when the pandemic hit. Years ago, the brewery got an additional license allowing it to make cider, he said. The license also allowed Santiam Brewing to do same-day delivery of its beer and cider.
“At the time we got it, we didn't think we would have to use it,” he said.
Before the pandemic, he said most of the brewery’s business was selling to restaurants and grocery stores. Now he said about 30% of its business is delivery, which he added isn’t much because overall sales are down.
Smiley said the new rule would open up competition from others.
According to Bryant Haley, Oregon Liquor Control Commission spokesman, there are about 5,500 businesses in the state that could qualify for same-day delivery and curbside pickup.
Tony Roberts, co-executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, said the new rules don’t change much for the state’s brewers because they could already apply for same-day delivery.
“It’s just that no one took advantage of it because they didn’t need to,” Roberts said, adding, “But during the crisis, home delivery has become a critical part of a lot of our breweries business models and plans.”
He said many breweries relied on sales of drafts, which are down because bars have limited capacity.
Mike Kendall, the sales manager for Bauman’s Cider Company, said his company, located at Howell Prairie Rd. N.E. in Gervais, normally makes most of its sales to distributors.
Before Marion County reopened, he said the company did home deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays, offering smaller batches of experimental ciders, such as English farmhouse, old-fashioned bourbon barrel with orange zest and others.
While Kendall said home delivery won’t replace its business model, it’s good to have in case there’s another stay-home order.
As the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has considered the rule, it’s gotten feedback from public health officials and others.
Jolene Kelley, spokeswoman for Marion County, said in an email the county is “very supportive of its food and beverage businesses that have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We support measures that provide vendors with avenues to maintain viable businesses,” she said. “We trust them to follow through on protective measures to keep alcohol out of the hands of underage drinkers.”
But not everyone is on board with the rule change. Mike Marshall, the executive director of Oregon Recovers, pointed to statistics showing Oregon has the fourth highest addiction rate (9.22%) in the country and five Oregonians die each day from alcohol-related deaths.
During the pandemic, he said people recovering from alcohol addiction are isolated and haven’t had access to their groups and services during the pandemic. Allowing more home delivery of alcohol could cause an increase in relapses, he said. Marshall said he’s sympathetic to the strains the state’s alcohol industry faces.
“But that can’t be our first priority,” he said. “Our first priority has to be the health and well-being of Oregonians and not the profits of big alcohol.”
SUPPORT ESSENTIAL REPORTING FOR SALEM - A subscription starts at $5 a month for around-the-clock access to stories and email alerts sent directly to you. Your support matters. Go HERE.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.