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Cheering Or Mourning Election Results? Mail-Order Cocktails Head Your Way

By Jodi Helmer | NPR
Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Drowning your sorrows or celebrating last night's election results with booze? If fancy mixed drinks are your tipple of choice, there's no need to leave the house to imbibe. Craft cocktails are now coming to your mailbox.

As meal kits have gained market share — Technomic, a food consulting firm, estimates that the market for meal kit subscriptions will grow up to a total market of $5 billion by 2025 — cocktail subscription boxes have followed.

The concepts are similar: Just as companies like Blue Apron (which supports NPR) curate all of the ingredients for make-at-home meals, new players like SaloonBox, Cocktail Courier and Crafted Taste are assembling and shipping subscription kits containing all of the ingredients for craft cocktails straight to your door.

"Mixology is intimidating," says Samantha Spector, founder and CEO of SaloonBox, a San Francisco-based service that launched in 2015. "People love the idea of making craft cocktails but don't think it's something they can do at home."

These craft cocktail subscription startups are working to change that.

Alexandra Sklansky, spokesperson for the American Craft Spirits Association, calls subscription kits "a natural extension of the craft cocktail movement."

The kits, she believes, appeal to fans of artisan spirits and the maker movement. And, because sales of sample-size bottles are rare and spirits tastings are, in some states, illegal, cocktail subscription kits allow tipplers to discover new drinks and small batch brands without splashing out for a big bottle of unfamiliar booze.

"It's all about creativity and experimentation," Sklansky says.

The same can be said for the creation of cocktail kits.

Each subscription service has a different take on the model. Some, like SaloonBox and Cocktail Courier, deliver mini bottles of alcohol — just enough to make the featured recipe. Others, like Crafted Taste, ship craft cocktail ingredients with full-sized bottles of spirits to help subscribers build their bars.

The fees range from $50 for ingredients to make up to four cocktails, to $185 per month for full-sized bottles of premium alcohol and mixers.

For subscribers, the kits are about more than the fixings for creative cocktails.

"We're not just sending a bunch of ingredients and a recipe," explains Kat Rudberg, founder and CEO of Crafted Taste. "We want our subscribers to get a cocktail education."

To that end, Crafted Taste's kits feature recipes for drinks ranging from classic to creative. Past kits have included Classic Mojito and Just Beet It, a cocktail made with vodka, beet and carrot shrub and ginger syrup. There's also information on bartending techniques, including the reasons some drinks are shaken, not stirred and when a drink should be poured through a strainer.

While "ecommerce for alcohol is on fire," according to Scott Goldman, co-founder of Cocktail Courier, selling craft cocktail subscription kits is complicated.

It's illegal to ship alcohol to 14 states: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah. Creative companies get around the restrictions in these "controlled states" by offering lower-priced kits with all of the ingredients except alcohol.

Even in states where alcohol deliveries are permitted, companies still cannot sell or ship direct-to-consumer and must, instead, partner with licensed liquor retailers that handle fulfillment.

Despite the challenges, Rudberg says, "the market is out there. We've seen a lot of competitors come in, because the cocktail renaissance is going strong."

The market for make-at-home cocktail kits might be strong, but Goldman is confident that the subscription services will not keep people from going out for drinks.

"There is nothing like the experience of going to a bar and ordering a cocktail. The atmosphere and the conversation with the bartender can't be re-created at home," he says. But "people are always going to drink at home and, when they do, we want them to drink well."

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina journalist and beekeeper who frequently writes about food and farming.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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