How the Spirits Industry Is Helping Out During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Almost everyone who makes booze is also making donations to help bartenders and others affected by COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an odd effect on the alcohol industry. With people stuck at home, retail booze has been booming: Yesterday, Nielsen announced that off-premise sales of spirits were up 26.4 percent for the week ending March 14, 2020, compared to the same period a year ago. (Importantly, sales aren’t up enough to offset other financial losses created by the outbreak, but at least it’s a small silver-lining.) And yet, those gains don’t do anything to help the employees of the closed bars and restaurants who would be serving these drinks during non-coronavirus times.

So spirits companies have been stepping up to help out—and not just by turning their attention to making sanitizer. Nearly every brand you can think of has pledged to support those in the hospitality industry that have been affected by this outbreak.

Various bottles of US and international spirits
Chris Mellor/Getty Images

The American-based Brown-Forman—maker of brands like Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve—announced this week they would be donating $1 million to COVID-19 response funds including providing money to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund (you can donate here), the United States Bartenders' Guild Foundation Emergency Assistance Program (donate here), and the One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund, while continuing to assess other groups’ needs as well.

Over the past week, British drinks giant Diageo—owner of everything from Smirnoff to Johnnie Walker to Guinness—announced similar measures in both the United Kingdom and Ireland promising over $1 million to support bartenders and other groups in both countries.

Yesterday, Bermuda-based Bacardi—the world’s largest privately-owned spirits company which, beyond rum, also produces huge brands like Gray Goose, Patrón, and Bombay Sapphire—upped the ante even further, launching a #RaiseYourSpirits initiative to support bars and restaurants with $3 million in financial aid and “other relief.” The donation is on top of the $1 million their Patrón brand individually promised last week. Bacardi said it’s looking at all sorts of options, but specified, “Some organizations we work with are: Another Round, Another Rally; CORE; the James Beard Foundation; the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation; and Tales of the Cocktail.” One of those initiatives includes a matching campaign between Bacardi and online drinks magazine Punch called "Tip Your Bartender" (more info here.)

Tito’s Vodka—which this year surprisingly emerged as America’s best-selling spirit, according to IWSR—also announced plans for “a $2 million donation to organizations that are providing assistance to those affected by the current pandemic.” The brand continued, “We are making an immediate donation of $1 million between four organizations focused on those in the service industry—CORE, USBG Foundation, Southern Smoke, and World Central Kitchen—and will fund an additional $1 million as we uncover further needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Other brands are finding more interactive approaches to supporting out-of-work bar staff. For instance, Aviation Gin—well known for its part-owner Ryan Reynolds—has launched a #TipYourBartenders campaign where 30 percent of all proceeds on bottles sold through delivery until May 1 will be donated to the USBG on top of an initial donation of $15,000. And Fireball Whisky has started a GoFundMe account entitled “World’s Biggest Tip Jar” where “donations will go to tax exempt organizations that directly assist service industry members including the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Program.” Nearly $150,000 has been tipped so far.

And clearly, the list goes on: Beam Suntory—the American arm of the Japanese spirits giants Suntory which makes a laundry list of brands including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark—along with their distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, pledged $1 million to the United States Bartenders' Guild Foundation Emergency Assistance Program and the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation. Additionally, a list collected by Forbes mentioned donations or other financial support from other big brands Jameson, Sazerac, and Campari.

Meanwhile, the U.S. spirits industry as a whole is helping out, too. On Monday, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) announced that its members were donating more than $8.37 million to the U.S. Bartenders Guild Foundation and other charities, collectively. That list includes Agave Loco, Bacardi U.S.A., Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Campari, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Edrington, Mast-Jägermeister US, MGP Ingredients, MHW, Moet Hennessy USA, Ole Smoky, Pernod Ricard USA, and Remy Cointreau Americas. DISCUS said the majority of the donations are going to U.S. Bartenders Guild Foundation Emergency Relief Fund, as well as “other national, regional and local charities.”

“Across the country, restaurants and bars have closed or moved to take-out only, leaving many hospitality industry employees out of work and worried about how they are going to pay their bills and provide for their families. Through these donations, we are mobilizing to get the money directly into the hands of those who need it most,” Chris Swonger, president and CEO of DISCUS, said in the announcement. “Time and again, distillers come together in times of crisis to support each other and to aid those in need in their communities. We will continue to do our part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of our workers and the public.”

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