I would have thought that with all the bad economic news out there — not to mention all the other grim headlines — that we’d be drinking more, not less, these days. I mean, remember those reports of stockbrokers passing out drunk in the streets of Toronto last fall? And who could blame them?
But according to a story in today’s Globe and Mail, booze is number one on the list of grocery items people are cutting down on — not here in Canada (we’re giving up bottled water instead), but in Europe, of all places, specifically in Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and France. In fact, 53 per cent of the French have cut their spending on spirits and other alcohols.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean people are drinking less. They might just be spending less. You know, skipping the luxury brands and going for the bottom shelf stuff, or picking the $10 wine over the $20 one, or even digging around in the liquor cabinet and finishing off the stuff they already have. But I suspect it’s a bit of both. Who isn’t just a little bit ashamed of the excesses of the past few years? Did we really think we could afford 20-year-old single malt Scotch and vintage Champagne on a middle-class income? I guess we did, but now we’re thinking, hmm, beer, box wine, Canadian rye, they’re not so bad.
Only a year ago I was inundated with press kits and launch invites for new luxury products, and would regularly come home to find yet another bottle of ultra-premium vodka waiting at the front door. This year? Nope. From my conversations with liquor reps, I get the sense everyone is rethinking everything.
Me, I think this is good news for great bartenders and the companies that hire them to promote their products. For one thing, using spirits in cocktails can make a bottle go a lot further than drinking it neat; for another, judicious use of bitters and juices and ice can overcome the deficiencies of a lower-quality spirit. That, after all, is one of the reasons cocktails were so popular during Prohibition.
We’ll see. I know that we’re all hunkering down and focusing on essentials these days, and booze isn’t really an essential, tho somedays it sure seems like it should be. But wine, beer and spirits add pleasure to life, and we could always use some that, especially now.
Used judiciously, alcohol enlivens the palate, adds sparkle to social events, creates a sense of celebration and makes difficult days seem, somehow, not so bad. That’s not going to change.
I think we’re going to be drinking less, but more wisely. I think gross excess, like those six UK bankers a few years back who ran up the £44,000 bill on a restaurant meal, most of it spent on three bottles of Chateau Petrus (according to Guinness World Records, the most expensive meal per capita ever), that’s just over. But a nice cocktail, a glass of wine with a meal, a sip of cognac afterwards, those are just the simple pleasures that make life enjoyable.