For many American craft distillers, 2020 was already one of their worst years ever. The COVID-19-related closure of tasting rooms and cocktail bars, loss of tourism, and inability to offer in-store sampling slashed their sales revenue and cut them off from their customers. Then this week, just as it seemed they'd made it through the worst of a terrible year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had one more surprise in store: The agency delivered notice to distilleries that had produced hand sanitizer in the early days of the pandemic that they now owe an unexpected fee to the government of more than $14,000.
"I was in literal disbelief when I read it yesterday," says Aaron Bergh, president and distiller at Calwise Spirits in Paso Robles, California. "I had to confirm with my attorney this morning that it's true." The surprise fee caught distillers completely off guard, throwing the already suffering industry into confusion.