To clear something up: In Ohio, "distributors" are beer and wine. When dealing with any product above 21 percent [alcohol], we're called brokers.
To clear something up: In Ohio, "distributors" are beer and wine. When dealing with any product above 21 percent [alcohol], we're called brokers. We're basically marketers, because the state handles distribution. We're not buying product from the suppliers. If we purchase a pallet of beer, we pay for it, we hold onto it and we distribute it. When it comes to spirits, the supplier is paying to ship into the state, which is very expensive, and they don't get paid until it leaves the [state] warehouse. This is why we don't get as much product as we should.
The state's justification is controlling the consumption of alcohol. We're in the state where Prohibition started. Since the state is the controller of the sales of alcohol, they have a monopoly, and they're allowed because that's how it was set up after Prohibition. They make so much money off it-almost a billion dollars [annually]-there's no way they're ever going to want to give it up. And JobsOhio killed any chance of it being privatized from the inside out. JobsOhio bought the profits for spirits for like 30-some years.
It's not that [the state] doesn't want to bring craft stuff in; it's that they're so used to doing business with Bacardi, Smirnoff and Jim Beam, and it's been selling well for a very long time. They weren't presented very often with this other stuff. They're not against having quality. Bruce Stevenson, superintendent of Liquor Control, has even said so on record. The reason sales have been so strong is because we've started to see a shift from mass quantities to quality. They realize that. It's just they've been very slow to get on it because there's two people who determine what can and can't be sold: Stevenson and Tom Kappa, the chief of operations. When you present a new product to the state, they're the ones you talk to.
It's not their job to keep up on the trends; it's their job to keep control of inventory and make sure the business is working as it should. Because it is a business and, like any business, it's about inventory. Every brand out there, every cool label, they have a brand code, and that's all those guys see-a code and the amount sold. It's not, "Oh, this is really cool stuff, and you can't make a Harvey Wallbanger without it." It's business, and I get that. But that's why people are so fed up with liquor in Ohio, why so many people don't even think, "Let me check to see if I can get the St. George absinthe in Ohio." They think, "I'm just going to buy it online because liquor stores suck here."
There hasn't been someone like myself hammering this stuff down their throat for the longest time. And the way the state says it-and they've been true to me on this-as long as there's an on-premises need for [a product], and as long as they're willing to buy it by the case if they have to, they'll bring it in and sell it. By law, every single bar and restaurant has to buy their liquor from a state store. If they're getting it from somewhere else, they can get shut down or lose their liquor license. So that's where I come in. I hear all these places that want the same product, and I get them to fill out some form saying they will buy it by the case, and that makes it happen for everyone. It's a real pain in the ass, and it takes a lot of time and it's so unnecessary as far as real business should be run. If anybody ran a business the way the state runs this business, they'd be out of business.
One of the first things I wanted to go for was Averna, an Italian amaro, one of those things like, "I can't believe this isn't here." I worked with it in Chicago for years, and I knew a lot of people were looking for it here. All we had was Fernet-Branca-which is great, but people wanted more. Plus Hayman's gin and Smith & Cross rum. Rum was in a horrible state in Ohio. When I was leaving Chicago about six years ago, you'd read about the rum renaissance and how great rum is. We just haven't caught up to that trend yet-the reason being we didn't have this stuff available to us. Not to toot my horn, but I've literally tripled the amount of good rum in Ohio in the last three months-Smith & Cross, Diplomatico, Scarlet Ibis. People love whiskey, but what they love about whiskey comes from a barrel; therefore, other things from a barrel, like rum, are going to appeal them to, too. It's just an education thing, and we can do that.