NEW YORK – There were big, block-lettered instructions on the chalkboard in the window of Brooklyn’s Buschenschank bar this week: “Keep calm and drink on. We are open.”
Bottled water may be the official beverage on emergency grocery lists but many East Coasters were emphatic about ensuring an adequately stocked supply of beer and wine before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.
As early as Friday, vintner John Martini noticed an unusual rush on the wine he was selling at Jackson Heights Greenmarket in Queens. Every week for some 20 years, Martini has sold bottles of his label, Anthony Road, at one of the farmers’ markets around New York City. This was unlike anything he’d seen. Martini said people were buying “a whole lot more,” not quite double what he usually sells, and telling him it was because they wanted to be ready for the storm.
Meanwhile, thirsty consumers posted a rush of photographic evidence of their alcohol stockpiles to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. One man tweeted: “Hurricane preparation: Jameson, Grey Goose, beer, wine, coffee – all obtained before water. We have our priorities straight around here.” From another person: “I way over-bought on beer for the hurricane.”
By Sunday morning, another Twitter user appeared exasperated by all of the boozy grocery lists: “Please Instagram more pictures of alcohol with the caption ‘Hurricane Supplies.’ Please.” As of Wednesday, supplies appeared to be depleting. One New Jersey woman tweeted:
“This #hurricane has given me a beer gut.”
What is it about a megastorm that drives people to drink? A spokesman for the Beer Institute, a lobbyist for brewers, says it’s about more than being cooped up with nowhere to go.
“Frankly, sharing a beer with a neighbor is something that’s part of sharing an experience, it’s part of American culture,” the Beer Institute’s Chris Thorne said. “Maybe you’re celebrating because you got through it OK. Maybe you’re commiserating because your house is wrecked. When we connect with people – whether it’s a celebration or a commiseration – very often in this country, it’s done over a beer.”
Anecdotally, it seems that beer and wine sales on the East Coast will see a late-October storm-related spike. An uptick in individual buys could help make up for bar and restaurant closures. Thorne says it’s too early to say how the industry will have fared, and that it can be especially difficult to assess fluctuations at a regional level.
“But you have a third of the population living between Richmond and Boston,” he said. “Just the New Jersey coastline and New York City, that’s a significant chunk of people.”
Parsing Hurricane Sandy’s broader and longer-term impact on the beer and wine industries is more complicated. This week’s deadly storm decimated swaths of the New Jersey shore, a place that’s synonymous with summertime beers for a huge portion of the region’s population.
“You think about all those small taverns and restaurants and cafes which are going to be altered forever,” Thorne said. “Is that going to affect business? Yeah, it is. Those people who poured their hearts and souls into creating destinations for people to create memories and make connections and have fun, it’s devastating to think about. It goes beyond industry numbers. We’re really seeing a change in the face of the Jersey shore. I hope for the sake of New Jersey as a destination, that they rebuild, and that we can all go celebrate over a cold beer on the beach.”