Are you thinking what I’ve been thinking, that we’re all drinking too much alcohol since this whole stay-at-home-order came down?
I know your thoughts because I’ve heard you share them—from proper social distances, of course—and I’ve read them on social media. Many claim they’re drinking lots more than usual because of the ennui creeping into their lives and leaving them less to do while waiting out the coronavirus crisis. That the commute from work to our favorite watering hole is the 100 feet from spare bedrooms-cum-offices to our living room bars hasn’t helped. When so many businesses aren’t doing a bit of business, it’s become 5 o’clock everywhere. So why not crack open that big Bordeaux, baby, and celebrate … Wednesday?
Here’s some news that supports your notions of overconsumption: Nielsen researchers say alcohol sales spiked sharply in March. According to a Newsweek article, in the week ended March 21, wine sales were up 66 percent—and that’s over the prior week’s 28 percent jump. And proving that wine drinkers care increasingly less about fussy corks, 3-liter box wine sales jumped 60 percent in the week ended March 14, and 140 percent in the following week. Five-liter boxes rose a comparably modest 60 percent.
Looks like Chateau Cardboard is finally getting some respect!
The increases for trendy hard seltzers were up an astonishing 456 percent for the week ended March 21, while spirits sales delivered a 400 percent boost during the second half of March. Surely some of those increases were triggered in the wake of the cancelled NCAA tournament always played during the period. Looks like #marchsadness is for everyone except booze producers!
While COVID-19 is dreadfully serious business, many I know are concerned about the “COVID-5,” i.e. the five pounds they’ve gained since “Stay-at-home-people!” orders rained down from the pulpit of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. In fact, he’s likely responsible for some of the waistline expansion since drinkers started tuning in to his 5 p.m. daily media updates now cleverly called “Beers with Beshear” and “Bourbon with Beshear.” I’d like to add the equally fitting descriptors, “Gimlets with the Gov.,” “BBQ with Beshear” and “Candy with Andy.” (See the meal planning in that sequence there? Cocktails + protein + dessert. COVID-5 is real!)
Silliness aside, here’s the good news: All those booze buying stats … they’re about purchasing, not consumption. Phew! You’ll drink to that, right?
Just as there have been runs on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, ‘Muricans have rushed to load up on their favorite tipples. But instead of guzzling those purchases, they’re shelving them.
Experts quoted in the Newsweek piece said the adult beverage buying binge is more about “pantry stocking” than liver poisoning. In summary, the author wrote, “double and triple digits gains are obviously not sustainable and likely will only last a few weeks.”
So, again, why do so many believe they’re drinking more?
Perhaps we’re more aware of how much we’re drinking when doing so at home. We’re making the drinks that drain the bottles that pile up in the recycling bin. Then we’re washing the glasses that held them and making the ice to restart the whole delicious process. It’s not like being at a restaurant where you order a drink, drain the glass and a server removes the evidence. “Stay at home, dammit” drinking happens without the interruptions of waiting for friends to buy the next round. Just as at a bar, there may be dreadful lighting and horrible music playing in the background at home, but there are no lines at your liquor cabinets or bathrooms. You just walk up, gaze at the selection, grab a bottle and a glass and set to.
On Friday nights at home with my wife, we commonly have two cocktails. But two weeks ago, when Gov. 5 p.m. Update insisted we wash our hands to a sandpaper finish, we drank three each. That seemed like a bit much until I considered how late we stayed up and the gravity of that night’s news coming in. We, like so many couples, launched into all the “What if …?” discussions of whether jobs would be lost, how much business would decline or whether vacations would be cancelled … and had another, our third over a span of 4 hours.
The next day, I told my wife that this early bit of extra consumption would die down quickly—not only in our home, but across the country. In fact, while editing this commentary, new Nielsen numbers arrived showing alcohol purchases nationwide are already descending from their dizzying mid-March heights. Numbers are still well overheated compared to last year, but clearly sales are cooling off.
Here’s the socio-cultural reality: Most drinkers who aren’t addicted to alcohol don’t regularly overconsume it. They drink because they like the taste and they probably enjoy the slight and brief buzz. Plus, they drink most often with others. They’re what the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous calls “social drinkers.”
These days, they’re called socially distanced drinkers, which, frankly, is increasingly boring. I enjoy a quiet drink with my wife, but we really enjoy cocktails with friends or in restaurants and bars. We aren’t the only ones who miss that fraternization. And since it’s clear we’ll remain in COVID-19 confinement for some time, I’m confident we’ll find other things to do than drink too much. After all, we still have to venture out to hunt down toilet paper and hand sanitizer, tasks best done stone sober.