Drinking Our Way Through the Pandemic

Drinking Our Way Through the Pandemic

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

People in the USA drink a lot of beer, wine, and spirits – everyone knows it. People drink responsibly in the vast majority of cases, despite the memes and chug videos you see on social media. Craft beer is a growing part of that market, and we should be proud that craft beer fans are helping to support an artisan community – especially during this time of shutdown.

However, it seems that the shutdown has changed our drinking habits a bit. The proof is anecdotal, but people do seem to be posting lots of memes and personal messages about their drinking habits in the last couple of months. The Charlotte Observer posted an article on April 20th that drew from multiple worker surveys that showed that workers are doing alot of day drinking while they are working from home. The numbers didn’t vary much from survey to survey, but some did go into more depth as to who is doing the drinking on the clock. Apparently, marketing and advertising employees are most likely to be drinking while working from home, but they may just be living up to the two martini lunch from Mad Men.

Some people were drinking more because of worries about losing their jobs, while others were imbibing more during work hours because much of their work had gone away; clients and projects had shrunk under the threat of reduced revenue. I’m sure that for some, it’s the lack of oversight and the availability of the alcohol that leads to increased participation in day drinking. Not only that, apparently beer is the drink of choice for people working from home. Here’s hoping that a good number of those were choosing craft beer.

The memes are many – and they’re funny. Some talk about not wearing pants, some talk about beer for breakfast or how you can’t get caught drinking on the job if you’re at home. Walter is working from home now, but won’t dare crack a beer open until she’s off the clock. I, on the other hand, drink beer as part of my job. I can’t visit breweries right now, but believe me, I’m still writing, talking to breweries, and drinking with normal fervor.

It isn’t just during working hours that drinking has increased during the shutdown. Total alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic as well. Off site alcohol sales increased 25-35% or more since the first days of the shutdown. Year over year, alcohol sales have been up more than 42% (link here). Locally, the effects of the shutdown on craft beer sales have been varied. Some breweries have told me that they are doing great, while others have been happy that they are doing about half their normal business. Unfortunately, many are hovering around the 15% of normal revenue mark. To me, that suggests a lot of the alcohol being bought right now is mega beer, box wine, or hard spirits.

I can tell you one thing for sure, the curbside-only sale of beer has made it hard for adventurous craft beer fans to patronize locally owned (or any) liquor stores. I never realized how much I go to beer stores with no idea what I’m looking for. Perhaps I’ll find something new or rare, or maybe I will run across a beer that I haven’t had in a while or am thinking about writing about. But under the current situation, I’m expected to tell them what and how much I want without being able to see the shelves. It’s nearly impossible. The best (but still not good) scenario is that I see a post of what they have that’s new, but there’s no guaranteeing that it will be there when I order. If online alcohol sales are continue increasing in the future, local stores are going to have to develop better ways to tell us what they have.

The memes about overall alcohol intake during the lockdown are even more numerous than the work related memes. Apparently, few people are going to be able to remember the pandemic – the memes say that they’re drunk for most of it. Other memes tell us that half the people will come out of this as chefs, the other half as alcoholics. Many memes discuss the fate of our livers with respect to drinking away the virus, but the memes about Corona beer were old by mid-March. I personally like the meme that I’m not an alcoholic because I’m having six beer – it’s called a tasting and it’s classy!

One last item with respect to drinking during the lockdown – many people have started new hobbies, and people with hobbies have dived deeper into them. Book readers are reading tons of books. People who make memes are especially busy. I’ve done more woodworking for sure, and I’m finally researching some subjects that I’ve been interested in for a long time. However, drinking the pandemic away can mess with your hobby too. Walter is my example for this.

Walter is a knitter/crocheter. She makes blankets, gowns, and hats for babies in the hospital. She makes lap blankets and shawls for friends who are sick; some of these are quite intricate. There’s a whole language of design and execution lingo that I don’t get at all: stockinette, long tail casting on, interlac, SSK or YO… I just nod my head and compliment the results. But apparently it goes deeper than that; she has patterns that she can drink while doing, and those that aren’t drinking friendly.

I guess she’s being a responsible knitter, but it’s amazing that the coronavirus virus-mediated shutdown has adjusted her production. The evenings’ offerings in beer determine which projects she’ll work on. In some cases, she’ll start something new because all the other things she’s working on aren’t drinking friendly – it’s a good thing she has more yarn than many third world countries. It’s also a good thing that she’s ready to un-knit her evening’s work when she discovers a mistake; unfortunately, she usually doesn’t see the beer-induced dropped stitch until much later.

Knitting is one thing, but I’m guessing that there are many activities that people are engaging in more than usual that could be more dangerous if combined with increased shelter-at-home drinking. Anything electrical could be dangerous, as could work emails that should never end with the “send” button being clicked. The old “measure twice, cut once” for woodworking could now be affected if a “drink once” part is added before and/or after the measuring. We definitely encourage you to go to your local breweries to get beer now (and tip well), but don’t let it turn the new dollhouse for your daughter into a condemned tenement or that new bonsai plant into a dead stick. Work hard and play hard…. and when appropriate, drink hard.

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