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The next pandemic-related shortage? Wine and liquor

Some states are putting purchase limits on alcohol as they ration their supplies of booze.
/ Source: TODAY

Sales of wine, beer and liquor soared during the pandemic as many of us took to nightly cocktail hours during lockdown. But according to NPR, liquor shortages are still continuing in some states including Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. It all has to do with supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the problems have to do with the logistics of shipping alcohol and getting it to neighborhood bars, stores and restaurants, as a truck driver shortage has caused a bottleneck. In some cases, a shortage of actual bottles is to blame for the lack of booze available on store shelves.

And while some states are telling people to be flexible with their tipple, others, like Pennsylvania, are going a step further, rationing their liquor supply through purchase limits.

Shawn Kelly, a representative for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) shared a message with TODAY Food that was sent to liquor licensees, suppliers and all fine wine and spirits stores:

"Due to sustained supply chain disruptions and product shortages beyond the PLCB’s control, two-bottle purchase limits will apply to certain items beginning Friday, Sept. 17, and will remain for the foreseeable future. The two-bottle limit applies to retail and licensee purchases, whether in stores, through, or at licensee service centers. The purchase limits are two bottles, per customer, per day."

The statement said that as products become more widely available, the PLCB will rescind the purchase limits.

Kelly said that bottle limits were not unheard of in their state.

"While the current supply challenges are not unique to Pennsylvania and are impacting markets across the U.S., the PLCB has experienced product shortfalls before, and we regularly impose bottle limits on products for which we know demand will exceed supply in order to distribute the product as fairly as possible," he said.

"These bottle limits are preventative measures to fairly distribute product and minimize out-of-stock situations, which will vary by location." Customers in Pennsylvania can expect to see signage designating which products the bottle limits apply to.

PLCB provided TODAY Food with a list of liquors subject to the purchase limit, which included everything from Moët & Chandon Impérial Champagne Brut, which generally retails for around $50 a pop to Elijah Craig Single Barrel Straight Bourbon 18 Year Old 90 Proof which goes for nearly $400 a bottle.

In Vermont, Wendy Knight, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery said that the state is not experiencing a liquor shortage, but rather a brand shortage.

"The State of Vermont has plenty of distilled spirits product offerings for our consumers," Knight told TODAY in an email. "The brand shortages have not affected the sales in the state. For example, even though we are out of Bacardi, we still have 21 other rum offerings, including products from local distillers."

Knight said that her department is constantly reviewing the needs of stores to ensure their consumers are happy. Several steps they've taken to address the issue include communicating to customers that this is a global supply chain issue affecting certain international brands, purchasing alternate products for out-of-stock items (for example, an orange liqueur that can be substituted in a margarita) and increasing their selection of canned cocktails.

As for how the shortage has affected bars and restaurants, Knight said that they have been subbing out different brands and adjusting their cocktail menus to keep pace. She said that bars and restaurants are being prioritized as they restock and reopen and that additional deliveries have been added to expedite the delivery of out-of-stock items.

Knight even saw a bright side to the booze problem — it can be a chance for cocktail enthusiasts to support local businesses.

"We are encouraging customers to try local Vermont spirits or visit a local Vermont distiller," said Knight. "This is an opportunity time to try something new and support a Vermont business and the Vermont economy."