Higher Spirits

Why wine and liquor sales beat beer in a flat economy

Photo-Illustration by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin for TIME

4.3% Increase of spirits ales by volume in the 52-week period ending Nov. 12; meanwhile beer sales dropped 1.7%

An hour of investigative drinking made the pattern clear to me. At T-Bar, a semiswank eatery on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the bartender was serving a steady stream of pricey vodkas like Grey Goose and Ketel One, scotches like Glenlivet, and wine. Only once did a solitary Budweiser get the call.

Perhaps the drinks selection was a geographic anomaly--I was in a martini ZIP code. To investigate further, I hailed a subway downtown to my friend Ronan Downs' joint, a proper watering hole called Beckett's. Downs, who's been in this business for decades, confirmed my hunch. "It's a very interesting dynamic,"...

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