Across the Charlotte area recently, you may have noticed empty liquor shelves where your favorite tequila, rum or vodka normally sit.
What’s happening: ABC stores are experiencing shortages of popular liquors at the same time demand is picking up at restaurants and bars. The shortages affect regular customers as well as the establishments that purchase through the state’s highly regulated Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system.
The reasons are complicated. At various ABC stores in Charlotte Monday, clerks cited everything from a national truck driver shortage to the shutdown of foreign liquor suppliers to the fact that Americans are drinking more.
Liquor shortages locally stem from the pandemic’s impact on national and global supply chains — specifically on raw materials, production and distribution, Mecklenburg County ABC Board officials say.
- “The Mecklenburg County ABC Board is in regular communication and working collaboratively with the NC ABC Commission and our suppliers to address the many challenges brought about by the negative impacts of the current supply chain disruption and low supply of spirituous liquor products,” Mecklenburg County ABC Board CEO Keva Walton said in a statement.
“With many businesses reopening, it may just add to an already strained system,” said Jeff Strickland, public affairs director for the North Carolina ABC Commission.
Kel Minton — beverage director for Soul Gastrolounge, Tattoo and KiKi Bistro in Plaza Midwood — says he hears “a million different excuses” a week about the problem.
Minton now supplements his regular orders through the local ABC by driving around to multiple liquor stores across the city. It’s nearly impossible, Minton tells Axios, to find products like Ketel One, Tito’s and Casamigos in Mecklenburg County.
The big picture: Tracking down in-demand liquor takes time — a commodity that’s increasingly rare for an industry already grappling with a well-documented labor shortage. A low supply of liquor also adds to a growing list of pandemic-related shortages, from chicken wings to lifeguards.
The process weighs on customers’ experience, too, Minton says. Bartenders often make substitutions or tell a customer they can’t make a certain drink.
“It’s affecting our guests’ perception at this point,” he says. “The average consumer has no idea what’s happening.”
This current shortage has been going on for about two months, Minton estimates.
In NoDa, the cocktail bar Idlewild similarly hasn’t been able to secure its usual inventory, owner Vince Chirico says. This means he has to substitute for products that he doesn’t like quite as much.
- “The good people working at our ABC location have been exceptionally nice and doing their best to keep up, but like everyone else they’re dealing with staffing issues as well,” Chirico says.
Jon Dressler of Rare Roots Hospitality says he’s had issues getting Cognac, bourbon and tequila.
- “We are just pivoting and selling what we can get!” Dressler, whose restaurants include Dogwood and Fin & Fino, said in an email.
Zoom out: North Carolina’s alcohol regulations date back to the 1930s. Local government controls retail liquor sales. Most states have one central liquor regulating board; North Carolina has 171.
Andy Kastanas, who owns Soul, Tattoo and KiKi, says the state’s management of liquor distribution and supply is to blame for the current shortages. “The state of NC should not be in the liquor business,” Kastanas says.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 13 with the corrected spelling of Ketel One.