The Recent Evolution of How We Get Tipsy

  • Share
  • Read Later
Charles Gullung / Getty Images

A generation ago, a stocked liquor cabinet and a fridge filled with mass-produced beer were standards in the American home, and restaurants and bars served alcohol at a reasonable markup. In recent years, though, wine and craft beer sales have soared, and prices on booze consumed outside the home have positively hit the roof.

Here are a few of the major trends regarding what we’ve been drinking, where we’ve been buying and drinking it, and how all of the above has changed of late:

Wine Is Beating Out Liquor as Preferred In-Home Intoxicant
Among the findings of an NPR report on how consumer spending on alcohol has changed over the past three decades, one of the most striking trends is how swiftly wine has surpassed spirits as the stronger drink of choice in the house. Beer still dominates, factoring in for nearly 50% of liquor store purchases in 1982 (48.9%) and again in 2012 (47.7%). But whereas in the early ’80s the rest of alcohol purchases were dominated by liquor—34.6% of store sales, compared to 16.2% for wine—by 2012, wine has left liquor in the dust. Nowadays, wine accounts for 39.7% of store sales, while liquor represents a mere 12.6%. It’s surely no coincidence that the uptick in wine sales has occurred during a long stretch when wine has slowly sloughed off its snobby reputation, and when wine has grown in popularity particularly among moms and women in general.

(MORE: 14 Public Universities With the Fastest-Growing Tuition)

But Recently, Liquor Sales Have Picked Up Steam
The liquor industry reported a 4% increase in liquor sales in 2011, with particularly strong increases in exports of American spirits and high-end “super premium” beverages (both up more than 10%). The boost in booze spending, particularly in terms of pricey brands, has been welcomed as an indicator of continued economic prosperity: Just as sales of cheap liquor brands soared during the height of the recession (Popov Vodka anybody?), increased spending on top-shelf products is seen as a sign of consumer confidence.

We’re Drinking More Craft Beer (Even in Cans)
While overall beer sales have remained stagnant, one tiny segment of the market—craft beer—has grown substantially. Last year, craft beer posted a 15% increase in sales in the U.S. Bloomberg reports that as of 2010, there were 1,693 breweries in the U.S., a 2000% increase from the mid-’80s. Beer-loving hipsters, who love PBR and craft beers alike in the can, have helped the can regain preeminence in the beer market: In 2011, cans accounted for 53% of beer sales, up from 48% during the import-in-a-bottle-loving mid-’00s.

(MORE: What’s Hot, New, Weird, Delicious, Refreshing, and Exciting in Pizza and Beer)

We’re Spending a Lot More on Booze in Restaurants
The other eye-opening difference presented in NPR’s alcohol report concerns prices changes on alcohol consumed at home versus at bars and restaurants. Store prices on beer, wine, and liquor have actually come down over the past 30 years. As production has become more efficient, prices at the store have declined 39% from 1982 to 2012, after adjusting for inflation. Drinks ordered at bars and restaurants, on the other hand, have increased a whopping 79% during that same time period. Rising costs of labor and rent at bars and restaurants, as well as an increased focus on alcohol over food for revenues, are some of the reasons cited for the dramatic difference. Unsurprisingly, a much larger proportion of consumers‘ overall alcohol expenditures go to bars and restaurants nowadays. In 1982, just 24% of our booze money was spent at bars and stores; today, that figure is up to 40%.

The obvious takeaway is: To get the most bang (or buzz if you will) for your buck, it makes more sense than ever to enjoy your beverage of choice at home. Totally your call if it’s in the can.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.