Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Higher-end liquor sales push state income up

Iowans are drinking more liquor, sipping more wine and quaffing a little more beer.

A report from the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division shows that 3.7 million gallons of liquor were sold in Iowa during the 12 months ending June 30, up almost 7 percent from the same period a year earlier. Wine sales totaled 3.2 million gallons, also up nearly 7 percent, while beer sales hit 75 million gallons, an increase of about 1 percent.

The state agency, which has a monopoly on the wholesale distribution of liquor in Iowa, generated $83 million for the state and local government programs in the recently concluded budget year. The proceeds, which were up 6.4 percent, included $53.2 million in net profit from the sale of alcohol, plus money from license fees, beer and wine taxes, and civil penalties.

At Central City Liquors in Des Moines, one of Iowa's busiest liquor stores, high-priced vodkas are selling well, said owner Tom Duax. Premium, single-malt scotches are also popular, he added.

"The state has given us a far, far better selection of single-malt scotches than we have ever had in the past," Duax said.

At the Sports Column bar in downtown Iowa City, vodka is also a big draw, and it's often served with energy drinks like Rock Star, said Bill Bryce, one of the head bartenders.

"There is kind of a boost from the energy drink, along with the vodka. It supposedly gives you a different kind of effect," Bryce said. "Beer is also very popular and Bud products seem to be more popular than Miller. Bud Light seems to be the most popular, I would say."

One factor behind the increase in alcohol sales is shifting demographics, said Lynn Walding, administrator of the state's Alcoholic Beverages Division. As more young people reach the 21-to-29-year-old age category - the so-called "Baby Boom Echo" crowd - they are consuming liquor, beer and wine. Many customers are buying higher-priced, top-brand products instead of cheaper drinks, he added.

The state's top-selling liquor is Black Velvet Canadian whiskey, with Hawkeye Vodka, a discount product, in second place. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum is third.

At A.K. O'Connors in Des Moines' Beaverdale neighborhood, the 24-to-35-year-old crowd is definitely developing more of a taste for liquor, said Jason Buck, an assistant general manager. One brand they prefer is Stolichnaya, a Russian vodka, which offers flavored products often mixed with Sprite or lemonade, he added.

"I don't know if they are trying to get a little more classy or formal, but their taste for liquor is definitely rising. There are a bunch of brand-new liquors that are a lot more appealing to the younger crowd, and I think that is becoming kind of a big thing," Buck said.

He said different types of alcohol sell at different times of day. He calls happy hour "beer thirty" because most people order beer then - at about 5 p.m. Later in the evening, the mixed drink sales go up and he sells a lot of alcohol mixed with an energy drink.

Julie Lyle of Des Moines said she usually starts the evening off with a beer. Later, she switches to something mixed with an energy drink to help keep her awake. "Late at night I go for Red Bull and vodka," Lyle said. "It helps if you've already had a lot to drink."

Dickinson County, home of the Iowa Great Lakes tourist region, still holds the state title for highest per capita consumption of liquor, averaging 5.31 gallons per capita during the past state budget year. Polk County ranked second with 2.87 gallons per capita.

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