The Monthly Mash: December 2020

The Monthly Mash

Volume 5.12

Member-Owned, Industry-Driven
ACSA Mission:
To elevate and advocate for the community of craft spirits producers.

From the Desk of Margie A.S. Lehrman,

Chief Executive Officer

Dear Friends in the Industry:

Entering our home basement storage area to gather the season’s decorations, I was startled to find last year’s holiday gift: a new set of luggage with tags still attached. I then was reminded of my husband’s gift, which has yet to be realized: concert tickets to three of our favorite bands that were on a 2020 tour to the D.C. area. Of course, that did not happen. Finally, a dear girlfriend and I share a passion for food. For as long as I can remember, we’ve competed in seeing who visits the largest number of local restaurants from Washingtonian’s list of 100 Best Restaurants, published each February. When the issue arrived (yes, I still enjoy the print version), I happily checked 52 boxes, representing those venues I had previously enjoyed. Psyched that only 48 meals were between me and taking home the prize of dining at all 100, I scoured reviews and read menus to plot my course for the year ahead. That list, hanging by a refrigerator magnet, still reflects 52 checked boxes. I’m wondering how many of the “best” will never reopen.

Travel, concerts and eating out all came to an abrupt standstill in March 2020. Life as we knew it, halted.

Not everything though.

ACSA’s resolve to continue to educate Congress and push steadily for federal excise tax (FET) relief never faltered. If anything, our determination grew as we watched helplessly, witnessing tasting rooms throughout the country shutter. We knew your small businesses were negatively impacted, from lower volumes of distribution, to fewer gallons produced, to needing to layoff or furlough employees. Uniquely qualified to produce hand sanitizer, we learned the regulations and temporary guidance while you pivoted to manufacture the over-the-counter drug. We observed your benevolence, many giving it away—gratis—to protect your local communities and first responders.

Your actions fueled our fight. And, just this week, we accomplished what many thought was the impossible: FET on spirits is now permanently set at $2.70 per proof gallon. Wow! Look what happens when we band together to fight on the right side of the issue.

Also this month, we announced the medalists of our inaugural Craft Spirits Packaging Awards­—you can see all of the medalists and their packages in the latest issue of CRAFT SPIRITS magazine. We also unveiled The Craft Spirits Podcast, featuring in-depth conversations with craft spirits producers and visionaries. Finally, we welcomed a new sponsor, Whalen Insurance, and you can learn more about their offerings below in the Q&A with owner Peter Whalen.

Hopefully, the tags will be torn off the luggage en route to Louisville in July 2021 for our upcoming convention. I learned that last year’s concert tickets were donated to the venues who clearly need the funds to hang on. And, my girlfriend and I have learned to prepare new cuisines at home and share our dream for future eating out.

Here’s to 2021, knowing that whatever confronts us, when banding together—WE GOT THIS! Hopefully this year’s most significant accomplishment, a permanent reduction of the FET, is only the beginning of positively shaping our industry’s future.

Wishing you a warm, healthy, and safe new year,


ACSA Toasts to Permanent FET Relief

Nearly a Decade in the Making, Distillers Earn Tax Parity
Following approvals in the U.S. House and Senate, the president signed the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) on Dec. 27 as part of an omnibus and stimulus package, giving the country’s 2,200 craft spirits producers much-needed, permanent tax relief and parity with their counterparts in beer and wine, who have enjoyed lower rates for many years. Federal excise tax (FET) reform has been ACSA’s top legislative priority, and the president’s signing marks a major victory for the distilled spirits industry. In addition to the hardships the industry faces as it crawls back from distillery closures due to COVID, distillers faced a 400% tax hike come Jan. 1 without legislation.

Prior to passage, the American Craft Spirits Association, together with other major beverage industry groups, worked tirelessly to rally support for FET relief, which was set to revert back to $13.50 from $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons removed from bond annually. CBMTRA had garnered tremendous bipartisan support with endorsement by more than three-fourths of the House and Senate. This permanent extension provides significant, continued relief, and marks the culmination of more than a nine-year push for tax parity.

Since 2011, craft spirits producers across the U.S. have rallied together in an effort to push forward long-term FET relief, and it is clear that this grassroots storytelling effort has worked. Over the past five years, ACSA has facilitated thousands of meetings with Members of Congress and their staffers. Even amid a COVID-19 shutdown, ACSA brought 150 craft spirits producers and the entire Board of Directors and past presidents to the Hill virtually to share their stories.

Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, ACSA: “As our country and industry face a challenging year ahead as we collectively recover from the direct, devastating impact on our businesses due to COVID-19 shutdowns, we applaud Congress—and in particular, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)—for working together on both sides of the aisle to support our community of 2,200 small businesses and do what is vitally important to keep our industry afloat. This isn’t just a victory for our industry, but also the peripheral industries we support, including U.S. agriculture and hospitality. Today, we celebrate a major milestone in the fight for parity with craft beer and wine and thank the key Congressional leadership for their tireless efforts.”

Mark Shilling, ACSA past president and chair, government affairs, and founder, Shilling/Crafted: “Today we raise a glass to a monumental, near-decade-long effort and to a triumph for our community of craft distilleries. Finally, this permanent FET reform eliminates what has become a cycle of uncertainty around temporary or even permanent reform. Our industry has a long road ahead as we crawl back from the impact of COVID-19 on our small businesses, but permanent FET reform is one massive roadblock we no longer need to face.”

Becky Harris, president, ACSA, and president and chief distiller, Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.: “As President of ACSA and a craft spirits producer myself during what has arguably been the toughest year in recent history to be a small business owner, I know firsthand the struggles we all face in forecasting our financial futures. This passage is a major, monumental moment and the culmination of nearly a decade of craft spirits advocacy efforts.

Deciphering the 2020 Stimulus and Government Funding Legislation: What’s in it for My Small Business?

Led by ACSA’s public policy counsel, Jim Hyland, come learn what’s in the massive government funding and stimulus package just signed into law by the President. Besides continued FET relief, upon conclusion of this Zoom meeting, you’ll know what other provisions may impact your business. We created this “crash course” on this 2020 legislation for your convenience, unless you plan to peruse thousands of pages on your own.
When: Friday, Jan. 8 at 3 p.m. EST; 2 p.m. CST; 1 p.m. MST; Noon PST

Advocacy Works: Daily Alcohol Limits Unchanged in Latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines

Those who attended ACSA’s Public Policy Conference in September will recall our advocacy efforts on the issue of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The federal government this week released its recommendations for 2020-2025 and the daily limit for alcohol consumption remains unchanged from the previous set of guidelines.

This summer, a report issued by a scientific advisory committee proposed to change the U.S. definition of moderate drinking, halving the guideline for men to just one drink per day (the same amount recommended for women)—a significant change from long-standing, evidence-based U.S. dietary guidelines and contradicting decades of independent research findings. The committee is required by its charter to base recommendations on a “preponderance” of current science. The proposal clearly did not comply with this requirement, since the vast majority of evidence in the committee’s own systematic review reaffirms that the current definition of moderate drinking for men should be maintained, not reduced.

ACSA applauds the decision to maintain the current recommendations at two drinks per day for men and one drink for women.

ACSA, CRAFT SPIRITS Magazine Unveil Craft Spirits Packaging Awards Medalists

ACSA and CRAFT SPIRITS magazine recently announced the medalists of their inaugural Craft Spirits Packaging Awards. Sponsored by the Glass Packaging Institute, the competition celebrates the best in craft spirits labels and packaging. The awards were announced Dec. 21 in a virtual awards ceremony emceed by CRAFT SPIRITS magazine editor in chief Jeff Cioletti.

Becky Harris, ACSA president and president and chief distiller at Catoctin Creek Distilling Co., personally thanked the program’s sponsor, GPI. Its president, Scott DeFife, presented Best of Show to Brooklyn Gin, which graces the cover of the latest issue of CRAFT SPIRITS magazine. The program attracted nearly 100 participants who enjoyed the suspense of the medalist announcements.

Gold medals were awarded in the following categories:

  • Portfolio: The Family Jones; Denver
  • Gin: Brooklyn Gin; Brooklyn, New York
  • Rum: Esencia Barrel Aged Spiced Rum; Burl & Sprig; Muskegon, Michigan
  • RTD: Gin & Tonic; Social Hour Cocktails; Brooklyn, New York
  • Specialty Spirits: Roy’s Demon Barley Shochu; American Shochu Co.; Frederick, Maryland
  • Vodka: Banyan Reserve Vodka; St. Petersburg Distillery; St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Whiskey: Organic Red Rider Rye Whiskey; Rockfilter Distillery; Spring Grove, Minnesota
“We realize that many craft spirits producers put just as much thought into what’s on their bottles and cans as what’s in their bottles and cans,” says Margie A.S. Lehrman, CEO, American Craft Spirits Association. “We are thrilled to recognize and celebrate the artistic creativity in our industry.”

“First impressions are critical,” says Cioletti. “The initial connection a consumer makes with a spirits brand is often through its packaging. The medalists in our inaugural Craft Spirits Packaging Awards demonstrate the right way to make a first impression.”

The competition drew more than 200 entries from more than 100 companies. Judging took place virtually in late November and early December, with an esteemed panel of judges evaluating each entry on the following criteria. Aesthetics: How does the packaging appeal to you from a design/artistic perspective? Innovation: How original is the design? Does it stand out on a shelf? Emotional Appeal: How does the packaging make you feel? Does it connect with you? Brand Communication: How well does the packaging tell the story of the brand/product through visual/design/copy elements?

The packages that rated highly on all of those criteria are the ones that connect with consumers and drive trial and sales, even when those consumers have not previously encountered the products.

The complete list of medalists is published in the latest issue of CRAFT SPIRITS magazine.

Special Thanks to Our Craft Spirits Packaging Awards Sponsor:

Enter ACSA’s Judging of Craft Spirits Before Entry Fees Rise on Saturday, Jan. 2

ACSA is thrilled to announce that its 8th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits is open for entries! ACSA takes great pride in conducting a rigorously professional judging program that recognizes the best craft spirits in the categories of Vodka/Grain, Gin, Brandy, Rum, Ready-to-Drink, Whiskey, and Specialty Spirits.

Enter your products into the ONLY craft judging competition assembled, organized and overseen by you, the distilling community! Keep an extra $50 or more in your pocket and register your spirits by Jan. 1, 2021, with early bird pricing.

Fees for ACSA Members

Early Bird: $200 per entry
General Fee: $250 per entry
Late Riser: $275 per entry

Fees for Non-Members

Early Bird: $300 per entry
General Fee: $350 per entry
Late Riser: $375 per entry

General Registration fees begin Jan. 2 and are available through Feb. 28. The Late Riser fee will be from March 1 until registration closes on March 12.

All spirits must be received by March 17.

To enter, please complete the following steps:

  • ACSA members must be logged in to receive the discounted member rate. Login here then go to the judging tab.
  • If you’re not a member of ACSA, sign up and save hundreds of dollars on competition fees, webinars, convention registration, and more!
  • If you’re a non-member and do not wish to join, click here to enter.
If you forgot your login or need to check membership status, please contact

ACSA Launches The Craft Spirits Podcast

In early December, ACSA and CRAFT SPIRITS magazine introduced The Craft Spirits Podcast, a bimonthly program featuring in-depth conversations with distillers and craft spirits visionaries. Editor in chief Jeff Cioletti and senior editor Jon Page serve as co-hosts of the podcast. Initial guests include Becky Harris of Catoctin Creek Distilling Co., P.T. Wood of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery and Jeff Kanof of Copperworks Distilling Co.

In the first episode, Harris joined Cioletti to discuss permanent federal excise tax reliefand the challenging year ahead for distillers already impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the second episode, Wood (who is also the mayor of Salida, Colorado) joined Page to discuss his path to making craft spirits and the realities of running a distillery and a city. And Kanof spoke with Page about leaving law for distilling and some of Copperworks’ recent offerings. Future guests will include Amber Pollock of Backwards Distilling Co. and more craft distillers.

You can stream each episode on or listen via the following outlets:

ACSA Reveals Convention Theme and Logo

ACSA asked our members to create the convention theme and logo for our 8th Annual Distillers’ Convention and Vendor Trade Show in Louisville on July 25-27, 2021. In early December, the convention committee voted on the submitted designs and (drumroll please) Iron Fish Distillery’s Legacy + Grit logo won the competition! Congratulations to the team at Iron Fish for using their creativity to create a thoughtful design that ties our craft spirits community to Louisville!

Standards of Fill Final Rule Published

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) announced it will publish a final rule in the Federal Register that, among other things, amends TTB’s regulations that govern wine and distilled spirits containers by adding seven new standards of fill for wine and distilled spirits.

The new container sizes for distilled spirits are:

  • 1.8 L
  • 900 mL
  • 720 mL
  • 700 mL
These new container sizes will provide bottlers with flexibility by allowing the use of the added container sizes, and will facilitate the movement of goods in domestic and international commerce, while also providing consumers broader purchasing options.

The final rule is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

For additional details see Addition of New Standards of Fill for Wine and Distilled Spirits; Amendment of Distilled Spirits and Malt Beverage Net Contents Labeling Regulations.

Learn more about the standards of fill for distilled spirits.

Follow us on Instagram for Craft Spirits Live

Join ACSA for Craft Spirits Live, our Instagram Live show. In each episode, a leading craft spirits producer invites us into their distillery for 30 minutes of engaging conversation and a virtual tour—as well as an opportunity to answer all of your burning questions.

Jan. 6: Alex Laufer, One Eight Distilling
Jan. 13: Karen Hoskin, Montanya Distillers
Jan. 20: Rob Masters, The Family Jones
Jan. 27: Richard Anderson, Iron Fish Distillery
Feb. 3: Lorna Conrad, Corsair Distillery
Not sure how Instagram Live works? Click here to learn more.

Access Our Archive of Complimentary COVID-19 Webinars

In case you missed them, all of our COVID-19 webinars are complimentary and available to download. Please note that some of the webinars may have some suggestions that are outdated as the guidance around hand sanitizer has rapidly changed. Please review the newest FDA and TTB guidance to ensure you are following the prescribed protocol.

Q&A with Peter Whalen

of Whalen Insurance

Located in Northampton, Massachusetts, Whalen Insurance is a second-generation insurance agency owned and operated by Peter Whalen. Peter started a special program to insure craft breweries in the mid 1980s and expanded to craft distilleries almost 10 years ago. The program provides all property and liability coverages needed to safely operate a distillery including bonding, property, general and liquor liability, auto, workers compensation and equipment breakdown. In addition, the program offers multiple special coverages designed specifically to address the unique exposures distillers face each day. Whalen Insurance has a variety of safety resources to offer their clients and the industry as a whole, even an in-house safety engineer. We recently caught up with Peter Whalen to learn more about the agency’s offerings.

You’re rooted in Massachusetts, but you offer services to distilleries and breweries across the U.S., correct? 

Peter Whalen: We are located in Northampton, a college town 90 miles west of Boston. However, we offer our insurance products throughout the United States. Our Craft Beverage Program was designed to address the unique exposures of beer and spirit producers and to provide all of the property and liability coverages they need to operate their business.

In addition to the expected coverage, you offer a safety library and an in-house safety engineer. Tell us a little more about that.

I have worked with Matt Stinchfield on safety issues for more than 20 years. Matt has an engineering degree and has served as the Brewers Association’s safety ambassador for several years, writing safety publications and doing safety training during this tenure all over the country. In recent years, he has expanded his expertise to recognize the specific dangers of distilling. While there is much overlap with breweries, there are distinct differences, particularly in regards to the explosive nature of the product. Matt is currently working on writing more material that will serve as a safety resource to distillers in the future, and we are hoping to feature him at presentations at upcoming conferences.

You started the craft beverage insurance program in the late 1980s, correct? How did that come about and how has the coverage evolved over the years? 

The Northampton Brewery opened a few blocks from my office in 1987 and they came to me for insurance. I immediately realized that standard insurance products were not sufficient to handle the nuances of this new industry and I set out to correct that. I approached the Association of Brewers (now the Brewers Association) about this effort and they endorsed the program I designed. Throughout the 90s, breweries struggled to find insurance as they were so new and insurance companies were wary of taking them on. I find that distillers are now in that same position and, after almost two years, I am excited to have convinced a national, “A” rated insurance company to work with me to offer the special coverages that distillers need to protect their investments.

Are there any common mistakes you frequently see as it relates to craft beverage makers and insurance? How can they best be avoided or prevented?

Being a relatively new industry, I think most insurance companies are unaware of the spirits manufacturing process and don’t know how to advise them as to how to either build or modify their distilleries to operate more safely. As a result, unanticipated and avoidable claims have occurred. Insurance companies have reacted by abandoning the industry rather than getting to know it better, leaving a lack of good insurance products to adequately protect distillers. I looked upon this as an opportunity and am eager to help as many spirits producers as possible, offering them guidance and appropriate insurance policies.

Now that distillers have FET parity, what do you see as the top issues or trends facing craft distillers as we look ahead to 2021?

Specific to insurance, I believe that most distilleries are unaware of how poor their existing insurance programs are. Insurance is off-putting because it is expensive and extremely difficult to grasp. Therefore, it often stays in the shadows and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Obtaining insurance may be looked upon as an unpleasant chore but it is the one thing standing between a business owner and bankruptcy after a claim occurs. This is a terrible time to discover they were not properly protected. Every owner would be wise to spend some more time attending to guarding against this.

From the Pages of CRAFT SPIRITS Magazine

The latest issue of CRAFT SPIRITS magazine includes:
  • All of the medalists from the inaugural Craft Spirits Packaging Awards
  • A feature story on distilleries reviving pre-Prohibition distilleries and brands
  • A look at the benefits of using specialty malts
  • Alluring cocktail recipes from ACSA members
  • And much more!

We Can Be Better

In the latest installment of his column, Lew Bryson offers a dozen New Year’s resolutions for the craft spirits industry.

Still Whistling After All These Years

Montana’s Whistling Andy Distillery celebrates its 10th anniversary on New Year’s Eve.

Download the CRAFT SPIRITS Magazine Media Kit
Want to get your products and services noticed? Be a part of upcoming issues of CRAFT SPIRITS magazine, the all-digital, bi-monthly publication of the American Craft Spirits Association! Check out our 2021 media kit to see what’s in store.
Share Your Story With CRAFT SPIRITS Magazine
If you’re not already sending news and updates about product releases and general happenings at your distillery, please add to your mailing list.

Welcome Newest Voting, Affiliate and Candidate Members!
ACSA extends a warm welcome to a few of our newest members and sponsors:
Find out more about becoming a member here.

Did You Know?
  • The TTB has issued 3,660 DSPs! Find the full list here.
  • Don’t miss these upcoming drink holidays:
Jan. 1: National Bloody Mary Day
Jan. 11: National Hot Toddy Day
Jan. 17: National Hot Buttered Rum Day
Jan. 25: National Irish Coffee Day
Jan. 31: Brandy Alexander Day

©2024 American Craft Spirits Association; All Rights Reserved. Member Owned, Industry Driven.

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