When things shut down in March as a result of COVID-19, demand for alcoholic beverages increased, however it was challenging for California’s smaller distillers.  

Pillsbury Sacramento-based Restaurant, Food & Beverage counsel Jacob Appelsmith was a former director of California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. During his two stints heading the state’s ABC, Appelsmith helped draft and execute California’s Craft Spirits Act of 2015, igniting a renaissance in micro distilling. In two years, the number of small distilleries in California quadrupled.

Today, the state boasts 138 craft distilleries licensed under the act, giving California more distilleries than any other state.

“Craft distilling can be a huge thing for California, as big as craft beer, if they do it right,” said Appelsmith. “They need to form a cohesive community, like the brewers did.”

But with most new distillers years from profitability, Appelsmith knew many would not survive the COVID-19 era. “We looked for ways to help the distillers by suspending enforcement of our rules,” he said.

In March, Appelsmith said, the ABC pushed hard to allow stills to be repurposed to make much-needed hand sanitizer, giving distillers a new product they could sell quickly.

You can try to make hand sanitizer from booze, but that doesn’t mean you should. “It was a delicate time,” he added.