Even before Gov. Roy Cooper ordered that all but essential services in the state cease operations, Cultivated Cocktails closed its retail shop on Page Avenue downtown. “I posted on our social pages that because we didn’t feel we provided an essential service to the community, to be safe and responsible, we were closing,” says Leah Howard, manager and co-owner of the family-run, Asheville-based distillery. “Ironically, the governor decided alcohol sales was an essential service.”
Cultivated Cocktail’s first pivot was to manufacturing hand sanitizer; to date, the business has pumped out 20,000 gallons, donating half of it to the community. Simultaneously, it switched from in-store to online sales and curbside pickup of its spirits, and Howard tweaked a national program she had been developing to address Asheville’s essential need for cocktails.
“I was working on a subscription program of cocktail kit boxes that we began shipping all over the country,” she explains. “The boxes contained all the ingredients for a particular cocktail, minus the spirit. But there was no reason that locals couldn’t pick up a kit and a bottle of the spirit.”
The business started offering the kits in mid-April with a few cocktails, but with the shop closed, there was a lot of time to develop more offerings. “So we have quite a few now,” says Howard. The boxes include all ingredients for your cocktail of choice, plus a recipe card. Orders are placed online and can be picked up the same day.
Over on the South Slope, Chemist also dove into making hand sanitizer when it closed its Coxe Avenue bottle shop and tasting room and the Antidote cocktail bar next door. “We had the idea to develop a build-your-own-cocktail kit and started the program right after the stay-at-home orders went into place,” says Rhea Lidowski, director of sales for Chemist. “We have several kits that let people make their own Antidote cocktails at home. The most popular have been the barrel-rested gin Manhattan and Old-Fashioned.” Customers can order and pay in advance online; identification is checked at pickup.
Both businesses plan to tweak the kits to include more seasonal ingredients. As the state has relaxed restrictions on business and gatherings, Cultivated Cocktails, Chemist and Antidote are easing into reopening with limited hours. “We can do tastings and cocktails now,” says Howard. “We opened at 10 this morning, and I made four cocktails before 11. People are thirsty.”