No Economic Hangover Here: We’re Spending More on Booze

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While most Americans aren’t spending as much on gifts for others this holiday season, they do seem willing to spend more on themselves – when it comes to alcohol.

“Holiday sales are stronger than ever, with Black Friday up 130 percent and Cyber Monday was the largest day of the year, so far,” said Rich Bergsund, CEO of Wine.com, the nation’s largest online wine retailer. “Our average holiday order value is up significantly over last year and corporate giving is the strongest it has been in two years.”

At least when it comes to wine, Americans have the attitude of “less is more.” Of Wine.com’s list of its top-selling wines of 2010, the top two – Stump Jump Shiraz 2008 and Cristalino Brut Cava – cost less than $10 a bottle. And only two in the Top 10 cost more than $20 a bottle.

The same frugality can’t be said for beer and vodka drinkers, however.

“Consumers are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to their food choices, and our chef survey shows that it is also true for alcoholic beverages,” said Hudson Riehle, a senior vice president for the National Restaurant Association. “Just like food trends, alcohol trends mirror overall consumer sentiment. More diners are interested in where their meals come from and how they are made. … We expect to see many new and exciting creations on cocktail menus, wine lists and beer taps in the nation’s restaurants.”

Of course, “sophisticated” often means “more expensive.” The NRA’s research declares “artisan liquor, locally produced wine and beer, and culinary cocktails are among the top 20 restaurant menu trends in 2011.”

That’s backed up by a new research publication with a funny name and a $5,000 price tag: the Cheers On-Premise Barometer Handbook, which is available from The Beverage Information Group. BIG tracks alcohol consumption, and it announced last week, “Consumer interest in adult beverages is at an all-time high.”

So Grey Goose has displaced Absolut as the No. 1 spirit brand in America – and neither are discount brands. And Americans aren’t trading down from imported beers to cheaper domestics, either. Corona, Guinness, and Stella Artois are the three top overseas brands.

But perhaps spending more, and drinking more, is not a frivolous endeavor. As American philosopher Homer Simpson once said, alcohol is “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

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