While discarding the suggestion of panic buying, retail outlets did notice a quirky trend — despite the hot sun beating down, patrons skipped the beer and preferred whisky. Most of the large alcohol retailers in Panaji and Margao kept their shutters down either because their staff tested positive for Covid-19 or out of respect for lockdowns announced by municipalities and village panchayats.
Long queues or crowds were seen outside liquor shops in several parts of Goa, with social distancing and Covid-19 protocols going for a toss. The memories of last year’s stringent lockdown, when alcohol had to be purchased at a premium and clandestinely during the lockdown, compelled many tipplers into lining up outside liquor stores on Saturday.
“There was a complete lull till Thursday, and after the lockdown announcement, things picked up. It was like the calm before the storm. Business suddenly picked up on Friday,” said Hansel Vaz, one of South Goa’s major alcohol retailers.
President of the Goa liquor traders association, Dattaprasad Naik, concurred.
He and said that all association members had decided to voluntarily down their shutters from May 1 due to the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. However, seeing the demand for alcohol, many retailers opened up to serve the rush.
“Almost 75% of our members obeyed the decision to voluntarily close. Small shops who are not directly connected with the association remained open,” said Naik.
On Friday, chief minister Pramod Sawant announced a 15-day statewide curfew from 9am on Sunday till May 23, which he said was necessary to deal with the drastic rise in Covid-19 cases and which has left the tiny state’s health system on the verge of collapse. As the news of the lockdown spread, liquor shops were the first to see a rush. Small taverns and bars in the village which are frequented by daily-wage workers and villagers also rushed to stock up on feni, urrak and other mass-category alcohol.
Aside from the sudden rush, the choice of poison also caught retailers and traders by surprise. The hot summer makes a chilled beer a natural choice, followed by vodka or gin, but this time around, many opted to purchase whisky across the price spectrum.
“Most customers think they shouldn’t drink cold beers because people are afraid of getting a cold and Covid. This time, people are picking up whiskey,” said Vaz.
Many traders in both districts noticed a similar trend, while also noticing that customers were not really breaking the bank while stocking up on whisky.
“A lot of people are buying two or three bottles of regular scotch and low-end whisky,” said a retailer at Orlim.
Vaz said that in the summer of 2020, the super premium whiskey segment did well, along with beer and gin. “Last year was like a party. This time we saw an upsurge in whiskey and feni. People are being more conservative this time, especially about the price point,” said Vaz.