Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Have You Been Drinking Cheaper Booze?

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Most of us have been cutting back during the economic downturn, and this week the Associated Press reported that this newfound thriftiness is affecting the way we drink. I've written about ways to drink cheaply while still drinking well, and now industry figures from 2009 illustrate how these changes in our drinking habits are playing out in the liquor store.

While these figures underscore the old adage about how people drink more during hard times, the numbers show they also drink cheaper. Overall liquor sales rose by almost 1.5 percent in 2009 (a slowdown from previous years), but revenues remained relatively stagnant as drinkers turned to cheaper brands.

Not surprisingly, sales of premium spirits such as Grey Goose and Patron slumped by around five-percent with the downturn, while sales of old college standbys like Popov and Jose Cuervo grew by almost the same rate. Also notable, though not surprising: people are drinking more at home (liquor store sales up 2.1 percent) as opposed to bars or restaurants (liquor sales down by 3 percent).

While producers of more expensive spirits such as cognac and single-malt scotch still have reason to be nervous, the report indicates the liquor industry is not entirely displeased with the situation.

The fact that consumers are still drinking tequila or vodka, instead of turning to wine or beer, gives the large parent companies hope that as the economy picks up steam, drinkers accustomed to enjoying their evening margarita or vodka martini will again turn to the premium brands.

It's been about a year since the last time we talked about how to drink cheaper during a bad economy. Have your liquor buying and drinking habits changed over the course of the year? Have you been buying cheaper brands, or swapping your drink of choice to one that's easier on the wallet? And instead of meeting friends at a bar or restaurant for drinks, have you been entertaining more at home?

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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