Some CT businesses flourished during pandemic due to loosened liquor

Relaxed liquor-sales regulations, intended to help businesses weather COVID restrictions, have even helped spur new cocktail-related businesses, including two tied to popular state restaurants.

The pandemic helped kick-start Drink Mechanics, a small batch cocktail company featuring canned drinks created by longtime friends and bar veterans Aaron Stepka and Taylor Gillaspie. They operate out of Millwright’s in Simsbury, owned by Stepka’s brother-in-law Tyler Anderson.

A May executive order that cleared the way for takeout cocktails also allowed for delivery, so the business partners worked quickly to launch their venture: researching and developing recipes with fresh ingredients, figuring out how to properly carbonate the beverages, and buying and registering their delivery vehicle, a refurbished ice cream truck.

“The ready-to-drink (RTD) market has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the alcoholic beverage market for the past few years now, and obviously COVID has increased that number,” Stepka said. “So it was definitely an area that we were interested in, but I would say COVID led to executive orders that allowed little guys like us to get into that game.”

Drink Mechanics debuted in August, delivering canned drinks to customers throughout greater Hartford. The partners have crafted a variety of recipes: “Spa Water,” a vodka soda infused with fresh cucumber, mint and lemon; “Green Monstah,” a take on a mezcal margarita with clarified celery and pineapple juices and a hint of spice from poblano pepper; and El Guapo, a carbonated Paloma-style cocktail with tequila and grapefruit juice.

They also like to work with fresh seasonal ingredients, and iterations of the “Kickstand” cocktail have featured local peaches and apples from Rogers Orchard in Southington. Stepka said he’s looking forward to using early summer produce in 2021.

While an executive order helped inspire the company’s debut, Stepka and Gillaspie hit a speed bump with a clarification in regulations in December. The state Department of Economic and Community Development issued updated sector rules requiring food “similar in quality and substance to a meal” to be ordered with any alcohol service.

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