It’s been said that during a recession the one item for which sales actually increase is alcohol. And as County Seat Spirits Owner Anthony Brichta found out, on-premises sales of his company’s rum, vodka, gin and other spirits have been crucial to its future during the pandemic.

With state liquor stores initially closed, County Seat discovered new customers, some of whom didn’t know there were distilleries in the Lehigh Valley region and who had never bought local spirits before. For the company’s existing loyal customers, it made their product all the more valuable to keep on-hand at home.

When County Seat was first told to close its Easton tasting room to customers, the distillery pivoted and began making hand sanitizer, which it gave away to first responders and customers for free. When the state approved the sale of cocktails-to-go, County Seat renewed its effort to promote their Mixo canned cocktail product, and also created to-go concoctions in plastic pouches. “We’d been meaning to make cocktails to go for a long time and this just ramped it up,” said Brichta.

The bartending staff at the tasting room also put on their thinking caps to come up with their own unique cocktails, which then get turned into a canned cocktail. They get $1 per can sold of their cocktail as a tip. Canned cocktails sell for $6 each or a four-pack for $22.

Most of their sales during the height of the pandemic restrictions were curbside pickups thanks to an online store that they started in March to allow the placing of advance orders. Shipping initially hit a snag due to a misunderstanding with national carriers about what was allowed to be shipped, but that has since been worked out. They’ve even been offering their own delivery service when customers can’t do curbside pickup. They charge a $5 flat fee for all online orders that they deliver to a customer’s home to cover gas and mileage.

 

Taking it Outdoors

County Seat’s neighbors Colony Meadery and Hijinx Brewing got permission from the city to set up Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas on the sidewalk in June. The purpose was to offer expanded outdoor seating since indoor seating was limited to 25 percent. But the distillery found out it didn’t qualify for a permit since its unit inside the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, where it is a client company, is located on the inside of the building and not along the exterior street level.

Rather than appeal the issue, Brichta and business partner John Rowe decided to stop selling handmade cocktails at the distillery. However County Seat’s Allentown location continues to sell bottles and cases for curbside order pickup, but during limited hours of operation.

They instead focused their energy on the Easton tasting room at the Simon Silk Mill, which had built up a good following and loyal customer base in the two years since it opened. This location offers limited outdoor seating where guests can enjoy cocktails on good weather days. They have since been allowed to reopen their tasting room at 25 percent capacity, but with a requirement that customers have a meal along with their beverages. So far their meals are along the lines of grilled cheese sandwiches or chips and salsa. But Mario’s, a new Italian eatery opening a few doors away from them at the Simon Silk Mill, should soon provide customers with more substantial meal options.

 

Looking Ahead

To help extend the outdoor dining season this fall when temperatures begin to turn colder, Brichta has purchased several outdoor heaters in the hopes that customers will continue to visit. “Since no one knows just how long the 25 percent indoor capacity limit will last, we have to do what we can to prolong the outdoor dining for as late into the season as possible.”

In the meantime, he is reconfiguring some of the space in the distillery at Bridgeworks to feature more lab space for research and development of new products. They also expanded their storage space in the Bridgeworks basement. The distillery’s Easton bar manager, Chris, expressed an interest in learning the art of distilling. So Rowe is now training him as the assistant distiller, which allows Rowe to have a more flexible schedule and to have a backup when he is away.

Customers who can’t make it to the distillery or Easton tasting room to grab a bottle of barrel aged whiskey or other spirits are still in luck. County Seat products can be found in more than a dozen PLCB Wine & Spirits Shoppes in and around the Lehigh Valley region, in the Philadelphia area, and in West Chester.

On the horizon for the nearly six-year-old company is a new agave product that is similar to tequila, a series of artisan bourbons, a lavender lemonade Mixo, and aged gin from used whiskey barrels.