Part 1 in a series of how we drank for business or for fun, from a glass or a can, online or six feet apart.
Many will remember 2020 as the year we rediscovered jigsaw puzzles, streamed a ton of movies, traded in hard pants for yoga pants (or for some, no pants), and maybe got too big for those britches anyway with all the sourdough bread we baked and ate. Some of us figured out how to Zoom without embarrassing ourselves (not you, Jeffrey Toobin) and others of us went all old-school as “the humble phone call made a comeback,” reported the New York Times.
And, we drank a lot—whether we bought online or at the store, or dug into our own cellars. Here are some trends that popped up as byproducts of our pandemic drinking this past year.
E-commerce became our go-to bartender/sommelier. If on-premise suffered, online buying flourished, bolstered by relaxed direct-to-consumer shipping laws. According to market research firm IWSR, platforms like Drizly grew by 350% in 2020. The pandemic “spurred an exponential increase in alcohol ecommerce and digital engagement” IWSR reports, predicting the $5.6 billion USD-trend is here to stay,
More little cans and bottles. How do you enjoy an adult beverage when you can’t party, you can’t have people over and your favorite bar is closed? Take it to go. Happily, plenty of producers identified and complied with that need. Hard seltzer, canned wine and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails all helped us power through the pandemic (and gave us something to crush in frustration afterward). The RTD category alone saw a 131% rise according to Nielsen CGA. My preferences were Mionetto’s six packs of mini Prosecco bottles (FYI, not crushable), which were perfect for socially distant gatherings or consoling cabin-fevered neighbors who didn’t know how to order from Drizly. The beautiful Art Nouveau packaging for Underwood’s “Nouveau” Pinot Noir elevated many a six-foot picnic table. I went for lots of chilled light reds in the can—Underwood’s Oregon Rose and Pinot Noir, and Two Sheperds’ (California) Cinsault and Carignan.
The “candemic.” See above to understand the great aluminum can shortage of 2020. Not only did seltzer and wine producers get in on the game, so did energy drinks and kombucha. More craft brewers, among the first to be keen on the can, also turned to aluminum as traditional gathering places like pubs and microbreweries closed in accordance with public-health protocols. Producers of hot brands like High Noon, a vodka-infused seltzer, reported a slow down in the supply chain at the end of last year, and others, anticipating the crush, like Molson Coors, for example, sourced globally and opened a new production line to keep up.
Tariffs: boo! hiss!
This was more of a trade issue under the radar for much of the general public, but it greatly impacted the people who love to bring beloved wines into the country, mostly small- and medium-sized importers who, trust me, don’t do this for the big bucks.
But, in a dispute with large aircraft manufacturers, the former tee-totaling person in charge of the White House imposed a 25% tariff on some imported wines and fine foods from the European Union. The dispute had nothing to do with food or wine, but punitively affected one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. The tariffs were levied in October 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, but they stuck for 15 months, during one of the worst economic times in recent history, with no reprieve for importers whose customer base (restaurants, bars and hotels) basically evaporated. But out of calamity came unity: the grassroots United States Wine Trade Alliance formed, and importers and wine buyers representing the group testified in Washington, D.C. And Biden proved to be a great unifier here: This month, the United States and European Union announced a four-month reprieve on the tariffs, giving small importers a small window in which to catch their collective breath.
Drinking alone was OK. No longer a surreptitious activity or a question on a self-administered behavior test, drinking home alone became OK. In fact, now it’s au courant because we’re doing it under the pretext of the “at-home occasion.” This was especially OK if you paired your wine with something you cooked, like that chickpea-coconut stew (I had mine with Gewurztraminer, and again with Riesling), and posted it on Insta. It wasn’t just wine we sucked down in solo cups. Covid-19 fueled a home-mixologist movement, and according to Bacardi’s Cocktail Trends Report, Nielsen CGA reports 40% of U.S. consumers were looking for cocktail kits at the end of 2020.
Virtual happy hour. It was the year for figuring out Zoom, the ring light, the backdrop, and the right wine glass for your virtual happy hour. By the time that was all set up, who cared what was in the glass? For friends, toasting your laptop screen was novel, but many wineries saw an opportunity to extend their brand from tasting rooms to people’s living rooms. In Texas, Ron Yates, owner of Spicewood Vineyards, says “Private virtual tastings with our guests took off last year as a way to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with friends and family in different locations.” And businesses took note, too. Jennifer McInnis, general manager of Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas, saw an uptick in corporate virtual tastings for companies wanting to both connect with their best customers and keep the moral going amongst their remote employees. “[They] are a great team-building exercise for employees who work remotely and in different locations,” she said, adding, “With so many companies still not returning to their offices and/or allowing employees to live and work anywhere, this kind of experience is not going away anytime soon.”
Next in the series of “How We Drank Through a Pandemic”: The Far Side of Drinking