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Granite State distilleries share how they got creative last year

  • Greg Meeh, owner of the Cold Garden Spirits in Canterbury, talks with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan during her tour of the Fabrizia Spirits in Salem on Monday, July 6, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan gets ready to pour in the alcohol into the limoncello vat at Fabrizia Spirits on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Greg Meeh, owner of the Cold Garden Spirits in Canterbury, shows U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan some of the distillery products during her tour of the Fabrizia Spirits on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan gets ready to pour in the alcohol into the Lemoncello vat at Fabrizia Spirits in Salem on Monday, July 6, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • CJ Lundergan, owner and head distiller of Steadfast Spirits in Concord talks with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan at the Fabrizia Spirits in Salem on Monday, July 6, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • CJ Lundergan, owner and head distiller of Steadfast Spirits in Concord, opens the hatch on the specially designed copper distiller last year. He was amoung the New Hampshire distillery operators to talk to Sen. Maggie Hassan on Tuesday. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 7/6/2021 5:30:10 PM

Charles Lundergan opened Steadfast Spirits Distilling Co. in Concord envisioning a grand opening party with food trucks, live music and people in and out of his tasting room. He opened his doors on Jan. 31, 2020 and was soon met with a pandemic instead of a party.

There was no way to predict their first official year would consist of closed doors and hand sanitizer – a lot of hand sanitizer.

But Steadfast Spirits is one of many small businesses that learned to adapt throughout the pandemic to keep its doors open. Shutting down was never on the table for Lundergan.

“We never stopped because we can’t afford it. So right through COVID, I wasn’t going to slow down,” he said.

Lundergan, a firefighter by trade, never ran a business prior. Distilling was a lifelong passion of his, and one he wanted to share publicly. So he and his wife opened the distillery and tasting room on Hall Street.

Sustaining his business throughout the last 18 months required two things: creativity and companionship.

He got creative when customers lined up at the door looking for hand sanitizer. Lundergan had made sanitizer for years prior to the pandemic, but did not know how to scale production quickly. For the first batch he re-purposed an old beer keg to make a larger quantity.

And for companionship, he turned to the New Hampshire Craft Distillers Guild. The group, of which Lundergan is a founding member, helps promote the sale of local spirits throughout the state.

“Our whole goal is to help awareness for all of us and hopefully at least get one of us from New Hampshire to be the next Tito’s,” he said.

On Tuesday, members of the guild met with U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan at Fabrizia Spirits in Salem.

Seated around a white plastic table, Hassan spoke with the group about business challenges and solutions throughout the pandemic. Fabrizia’s limoncello, canned pre-made cocktails and hand sanitizer decorated the round table.

“What seems like little things to you are huge things to us at the end of the day,” Blake Amacker, owner and co-founder of Copper Cannon Distillery in Chesterfield, told Hassan.

Throughout the pandemic, one of the little things that was a source of relief for each business in the group was the Craft Beverage and Modernization Act, which was enacted in December 2020.

The act solidified a reduced tax rate for beer, distilled spirits and some wine. Previously, these breaks were temporary, enacted in 2018 and set to end in 2020.

“It was a game changer,” said Phil Mastroianni, co-founder of Fabrizia Spiritz. “My brother and I were on the verge of bankruptcy.”

The tax break allowed them to keep their prices competitive, while further investing into their business rolling out new products like canned cocktails.

Yet despite praise and gratitude for the tax relief, the group explained to Hassan other challenges they faced over the last year and a half.

A resounding problem: labor shortages across the state.

Support for the restaurant industry would in turn help distilleries, they explained. With the ability to sell their drinks to restaurants, they have another avenue to introduce customers to their products.

However, many distillers found restaurants closed more frequently, or opened with scattered hours as a result of labor shortages this summer.

A tight labor market is not a new problem, according to Hassan, and one that came up frequently during her term as governor.

However, she hopes that with money from the American Rescue Plan, New Hampshire can invest in childcare by providing grants and scholarships to allow more parents to return to the workforce.

Guild members had their own solution – urging her to push for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to be replenished. The fund recently closed, after running out of money two months after opening.

Hassan also referenced various relief packages and tax credits small businesses could apply for. Guild members gathered to talk to her staff afterwards for instructions on how to apply for relief funding

However, some businesses, like Lundergan’s, did not see a dime of federal funding during the pandemic.

“I tried every single bill that came up. Every bill, every article, every single bit of relief and I was denied for every single one,” he said.

As a brand new business with no revenue from the previous year and or employees, Lundergan did not qualify for many of the available grants and relief packages.

Instead, he turned to members of the guild for help. Mastroianni helped him with alcohol for the hand sanitizer production. And he was also able to recommend a distributor to use.

The support from the guild helped keep many of their businesses open throughout the last year.

“The example we should all be following in D.C. is your example, you all work together and help each other,” said Hassan.

And with increased federal help, the distillers hope to see their businesses grow, inviting people in to try their products and support business revenue and tourism in New Hampshire.

“My dream for this mess is to  be able to, when I retire out of the fire service, is to actually have a viable business,” he said. “It’s something I just love doing that I’ve always loved to do.”


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