* This article was written before Phase 1 for ‘coming out of lockdown’ in Scotland.
While many shops are forced to close amid COVID-19, off-licences were declared part of essential shopping and permitted to reopen. According to recent statistics from The Guardian, alcohol sales have increased by 31.4% since the reopening of off-licences. However, society has mixed feelings regarding the classification of alcohol as ‘essential’.
From enjoying a half pint of Tennent’s beer to having a sip of Glenmorangie single malt whisky, drinking is an essential element of British culture. As a social lubricant, alcohol has always been an intermediary between people. It helps us to ‘loosen up’ and to socialise in pubs and clubs. As on-trade businesses are shut down during the coronavirus, off-trade outlets have taken on the role of keeping the party going, virtually. Although the government has temporarily banned gatherings of more than two people, video conferencing apps still allow people to consume alcohol socially. With pub quizzes on Zoom, binge-watching TV shows on Netflix Party, and online karaoke being extremely popular nowadays, these new forms of socialising, and their incorporation of drinking, highlights the fact that alcohol remains important in our daily lives. In short, as off-licences make alcohol more accessible to us, we can all agree that physical distancing does not stop people from seeking other means of drinking together.
As consumers, we often see alcohol as products for consumption. However, looking at a bigger picture, alcohol has an important role in the British economy. From distilleries to wholesales and sales outlets, the entire alcohol industry is responsible for 770,000 jobs across Britain, according to IAS. In the case of Scotland, with an average turnover of 5.3 million pounds across all distilleries, alcohol production contributes to a significant percentage of the local GDP. Amid coronavirus, alcohol supply chains across the nation not only strive to maintain regular production levels but also to help minimise economic damage by retaining staff and exporting goods. Furthermore, the spirits industry in the UK has been exploring various ways to support the local communities. With distilleries such as Auchentoshan, Clydeside Distillery, and The Glasgow Distillery Co. producing hand sanitisers which are in huge demand in the UK, the industry utilises its expertise and makes great contributions to our society. Additionally, other members of the industry, such as Eden Mill and OurWhisky, support the NHS staff by launching a limited-edition gin bottle to raise donations or raise funds for charities to help those who are affected by the pandemic.
Certainly, we have to admit that alcoholism and related domestic abuse are prevalent problems under lockdown and, of course, before these conditions too. Other countries, e.g. New Zealand and Thailand, enforce strict regulations on alcohol to reduce chances of binge-drinking. However, under the pretext that alcohol is considered essential, can we minimise the detrimental effects caused by over-consumption? An effective strategy is that breweries, distilleries, and the government should collaboratively promote the message of drinking responsibly. The collaborative should make sure that people have access to information about the danger of intoxication, and this should be accessible across different media channels. In addition, off-licences and the government should set restrictions on one-off, bulk purchases of alcoholic beverages. Off-licences should also be vigilant when selling alcohol to suspicious customers.
After all, alcohol doesn’t take away ‘ale’ your problems and with a pandemic outside, there sure seems to be a fair few. But in moderation and with responsibility, making yourself a G&T in your cosy home and calling a friend on Zoom for a virtual pub quiz might be worth a ‘shot’.
[Ernest Shiu – he / him – @shiuology]
[Photo credit: Fidel Ramos/flickr.com]