People are drinking more since the pandemic started, but this trend hasn't had the trickle-down benefits one might expect for small and local alcohol producers.
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in September found that, since the pandemic began, three in four adults consumed alcohol on one more day each month, on average. In Texas, per capita sales of spirits increased more than 10% in June compared to the prior three-year average, according to a surveillance report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Although retail sales have improved, they do not necessarily offset the losses in other areas, such as keg sales to bars and restaurants or taproom revenue. Increased demand from home drinkers has also led to some unexpected challenges, including a can shortage.
This has been the case for Ranch Rider Spirits Co., a local canned cocktail company.
"Our bar and restaurant business dropped down to essentially none," co-founder Brain Murphy told Austonia. "But our retail business really performed well."
Murphy and his co-founder, Quentin Cantu, met as first-year students at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business and launched a food truck, Ranch Hand, with investment dollars from professors.
The truck's cocktails were so popular that they started Ranch Rider, a canned cocktail company that uses just a few ingredients: tequila, sparkling water and fresh fruit juice. It launched late last year.
As a growing business, Ranch Rider has faced some challenges over the course of the pandemic.
During the early days of lockdown, consumers "had all the time in the world," Murphy said, and didn't necessarily reach for a pre-mixed, canned cocktail.
But eventually people moved from the sourdough stage of quarantine to other activities, such as taking evening strolls, going out on a boat or golfing, all of which were relatively safe and canned cocktail-friendly.
"Austin has been great at supporting us," he added.
One unexpected challenge, however, was sourcing the aluminum cans in which its products are sold.
Big beer and soda conglomerates also saw their restaurant and bar business dry up while retail demand—from grocery and liquor store customers—increased. Instead of selling their wares in kegs or in soda fountain-friendly vessels, they needed cans.
This demand squeezed out many small producers, like Ranch Rider and craft brewers.
"We're still very much in the throes of that shortage," Murphy said.
Craft brewers are in the same boat.
Although retail sales may be strong, they rarely account for the losses in other revenue areas, said Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. He estimates many craft breweries have seen their revenue fall by more than 50% this year.
Hops & Grain Brewing announced earlier this month that it would close its East Austin taproom to focus on its beer production business. It follows in the footsteps of other local breweries that have closed due to the pandemic, such as South Austin's Skull Mechanix Brewing and North Austin's North by Northwest Brewing Company.
For those businesses that survive this period, Vallhonrat expects some pandemic-era adaptations to remain in place, including curbside beer pickup and online reservation systems.
But they'll have to survive the depressed brewery and taproom sales and can shortage to get there.
"It's been a real challenge," he said.
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."