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Ohioans’ Liquor Consumption at All-Time High

December 30, 2019by Lucas Sullivan
The state liquor control board updated an online inventory system last year, OHLQ.com, to help those hunting their favorite spirits, especially bourbon lovers. Hard to find bottles "unicorn bottles' sit behind the counter at Weiland's Market in Columbus on June 27. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was 7:30 a.m. inside a nearly vacant Giant Eagle grocery store in New Albany, but in the back corner there were 18 people standing outside the shuttered liquor section.

The liquor store didn’t open until 9 a.m.

All of them were there for a sought-after bourbon from Kentucky that hits the store’s shelves every Saturday.

A similar scene played out at a Kroger grocery store on Sunbury Road in Westerville, where clerks can’t even get some of the bottles onto the shelves before they are snapped up by whiskey hunters.

Ohioans’ thirst for liquor is at an all-time high, according to numbers provided to The Dispatch by the Ohio Department of Liquor Control.

In the last 20 years, liquor consumption has nearly doubled to 14.9 million gallons. Sales have tripled during that time to $1.3 billion.

The average person in the United States consumes 2.35 gallons of alcohol per year, according to a study released in 2018 by the National Institutes of Health. That’s about 10 beers per weekend, on average. Ohioans consume about 2 gallons per year.

Some of the increase could be due to more people in Ohio. The state’s population has increased by about 450,000 people during that time, according to U.S. Census figures.

But there also is a trend toward buying more spirits.

“From where I sit as the operator, we are selling more liquor,” said Steve McGinty, Giant Eagle’s manager of wine and liquor. “We have seen a continued trend toward younger consumers. They are consuming more spirits. With baby boomers, wine is 50% (of sales), but with millennials it is less than 30%.”

Twenty years ago, Giant Eagle had five liquor stores total in its chain. Now it has 18 in central Ohio alone.

McGinty said liquor is now Giant Eagle’s top category in alcohol sales, followed by wine and beer.

Lindsey Leberth, a manager of alcohol brands with the state’s liquor control department, confirmed what Giant Eagle officials are seeing.

“High-end, specialty bourbons are in demand currently,” she said. “We typically see the interest in these products from early 30’s to middle-aged consumers.”

And though there is a growing market for bourbon and whiskey, vodka is still the most-popular liquor in Ohio.

Ohioans consumed more than 5.1 million gallons of vodka each of the last two years, according to state data. American whiskey was next at 2.1 million gallons, followed by rum, tequila and Canadian whiskey at 1.3 million gallons each.

Carmen Owens, who owned the recently-shuttered Surly Girl bar, said younger drinkers are gravitating toward liquors more than previous generations.

“One thing that has been really cool to see younger drinkers are more educated and knowledgeable and I think it comes in different ways,” she said. “Younger people aren’t drinking just J’ger (J’germeister) and gin and tonic.

“They want more than just beer and a shot. Today’s consumer sees liquor on TV, social media and books, and there’s this celebrity bartender movement. It’s everywhere.”

Brian Ferrier, Giant Eagle’s regional vice president of operations, said social media plays a big role in alcohol sales.

“Trends happen more quickly than they ever have — all of the sudden explode in the span of two weeks instead of trends in spirits taking years,” he said.

Ferrier said he’s been involved in alcohol sales for 32 years and said the state’s numbers line up with what he’s seen over the last few decades.

“When I started, I remember we transferred five liquor agencies into our stores,” Ferrier said. “In 2019, we have 80 (liquor) locations-plus. So we kind of had a front row seat this increased consumption.”

Owens, 43, now owns the liquor pop-up stand called SheCreature.

She said the trend toward more tequila and bourbon shows no signs of slowing down.

“I mean vodka is always gonna be at the top because it does what it sets out to do and be flavorless,” she said. “But if you think about where liquor is now, it’s only going to grow. I mean, it’s at movie theaters now.”

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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