Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Alcohol sales in Clark County well up since 2017

But news not all good for Washington’s distilleries

By , Columbian staff writer
success iconThis article is available exclusively to subscribers like you.

Clark County increasingly likes a cold one now and then, or so it appears from the region’s wine, beer and alcohol sales numbers.

Across the region and the state, alcohol sales have been steadily increasing over the years, with a particular bump in 2020 that coincides with the start of the pandemic. It wasn’t all good news for local producers, however.

“I would say overall alcohol sales in the state have increased since COVID, at least at the retail level, as more people decided to learn how to make cocktails at home during lockdown,” said A.J. Temple, president and head distiller at the Temple Distilling Co. in Lynnwood and secretary of the Washington Distillers Guild.

Wine, alcohol and beer sales in Vancouver have more than doubled since 2017, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. There was $8.64 million in sales in 2017, according to the revenue department. In 2021, there was $17.96 million.

In 2017, sales for beer, wine and liquor were $2.23 million in unincorporated Clark County, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. Battle Ground saw $171,819 in alcohol sales; Camas saw $207,427, La Center $16,093, Ridgefield $54,593, Washougal $31,976 and Yacolt $1,450.

Fast forward to 2021 — the most recent year with annual sales data available — when wine, liquor and beer sales were $2.63 million in unincorporated Clark County, $717,174 in Battle Ground, $336,302 in Camas, $17,616 in La Center, $1.41 million in Ridgefield, $121,387 in Washougal and $3,408 in Yacolt.

It’s worth noting that many of these cities have undergone significant development during that time period. Clark County’s population surpassed half a million people by 2021. Ridgefield, which saw an enormous increase in alcohol sales, has particularly grown in both its population and its amenities, including the opening of the Rosauers supermarket in 2020.

Vancouver, too, has experienced a population boom since 2017, adding nearly 12,000 people during that time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Statewide, the picture was much the same. There were $259.58 million in wine, beer and alcohol sales in 2017 and $404.51 million in 2021, according to the department of revenue. The most drastic increase occurred when sales rose from $301.81 million in 2019 to $351.62 million in 2020.

Top-shelf brands hit hard

This hasn’t been all sunshine for Washington-based producers.

Washington has one of the highest spirit taxes in the country and one that is percentage-based, affecting the state’s distillers that offer higher-shelf, more expensive spirits.

“We’ve seen much more growth from the major out-of-state brands, as their shelf prices are lower,” Temple told The Columbian. “The after-tax amount the consumer pays is then much lower than a local craft brand, and it makes it hard to compete.

“Normally, consumers are willing to pay more for a better product,” said Temple. “And while this behavior still exists, the leftover price sensitivity from COVID and general inflation woes over these last few years has understandably forced consumers into a position of settling for a big-box brand when things get tight.”

Sales may not have noticeably increased for local wineries, as well.

“For us, we are just now getting back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Jennifer English Wallenberg at English Estate Winery, 17806 S.E. First St. in Vancouver.

Sales at the winery were off by around 50 percent in 2020 and 2021.

In the spirits industry, ready-to-drink beverages, or canned cocktails, have increased year-over-year. Barriers like licensing, equipment and distribution make it more challenging for many of the state’s distillers, however.

With the return of tasting events and new bars opening, consumer interest in spirits has risen, Temple told The Columbian.

He noted that the state lost about 30 percent of its distilleries between 2020 and 2022, largely due to the pandemic and associated struggles.

“But we’re seeing more new applications coming up, so I would say the recovery is well underway,” said Temple.