A couple weeks ago, you may have seen the 250 ml bottle 4-packs go up in our store. You can choose your own mix of Vodka, Gin, Rum, and Canadian Whisky. While they're great stocking stuffers, the main reason behind them is to help our bar & restaurant friends who are bracing themselves for a tough winter. While a few, like Hamilton's Bar Sazerac, are offering cocktail kits based on a full 750 ml format (which are friggin' amazing by the way - go check them out!), most of our licensee accounts have been telling us that people don't really want a 750 ml bottle for takeout. Earlier this year, we'd started down the road of doing up 50 ml miniatures, but the cost of bottles, labels, and stoppers was driving up the price too much.
Then came the pandemic.
We, like so many of our peers in the craft distilling world started making hand sanitizer. It was a crazy time - everyone trying to figure out how to jump through the CRA, CBSA, and Health Canada hoops to get the proper licenses, interpreting and applying Good Manufacturing Practices for health products, navigating government procurement processes, figuring out how to create MSDS, and so much more, all at the same time, with no background or guidance in the field. Even crazier was the rush on supplies. If you thought it was hard to find TP, flour, or laying chickens in the early days of the 'rona, you should've seen the market for hydrogen peroxide or food-grade bottles. Turns out that most of the bottles used in Ontario were made in China, supply was limited, and resupply was not on its way. It was like Black Friday by phone. In the course of one ten minute call with a local manufacturer, they went from having 5,000,000 bottles in stock to under 1,000,000.
I'm not going to say that we panic-bought... but we panic bought. That's why we had so many formats of bottles and closures in the early days - from maple syrup jugs, to flip-top squeeze bottles, to 250 ml water bottles. We saw some distillers using juice box style bags. Any food-grade container that could be found was being filled with hand sanitizer.
Of course, after the initial rush wore off, and supply started to return to normal, Health Canada directed that beverage bottles were no longer to be used for hand sanitizer, without a bunch of other restrictions. By this time, we'd built relationships with local manufacturers for the spray bottles our customers preferred, so we had no problem making the transition. We did, however, have 6,000 empty 250 ml water bottles sitting in our distillery. This was around the same time that licensees started asking us for a smaller format, suitable for their takeout windows. Somehow we managed to put 2 + 2 together, and the Travelers were born.
As always, 100% transparency here. We buy in the rum, whisky, and vodka that go in to these bottles. We do make the gin, from the bought-in vodka base. We don't make them in-house, because that would drive the price up. The most important piece for us in getting these products out is that the bar or restaurant can maximize their margins. This means selling at the LCBO minimum price for a 250 ml bottle. There's no way we can make the spirits ourselves and get to that price point. It's still good stuff though - better than what most bars sell on their rails. Because of the relationships we've built in making sanitizer, we were able to choose the very best juice from various suppliers.
So that's it. That's the story of the Travelers. By offering a quality product at the lowest possible price, we're aiming to help bars & restaurants' bottom lines. Our sincere hope is that these products can help licensees keep their heads above water this winter, keep people employed, and keep money circulating in our local economy where it belongs.
If you're not a licensee, you can still buy from us directly, but we'd really prefer that you keep an eye out for a bar selling 'em for takeout near you, and buy from them instead. We're working on an interactive map of places carrying the travelers for takeout, and we'll update this post when it's ready. In the meantime, you can watch our social media to find out who's carrying them.
Licensee pricing: $10.47 per 250 ml, including LCBO licensee markup. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to order.