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Friday, May 30, 2014

New Hampshire sells a lot of booze, but our consumption is pretty average

New Hampshire has always sold an inordinate amount of liquor – accumulated profits since the state entered the booze business in 1934 recently passed the $3 billion mark – and many locations are seeing hefty increases this year, including stores in Merrimack and Brookline.

But that doesn’t mean New Hampshire drinks an inordinate amount of liquor. ...

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New Hampshire has always sold an inordinate amount of liquor – accumulated profits since the state entered the booze business in 1934 recently passed the $3 billion mark – and many locations are seeing hefty increases this year, including stores in Merrimack and Brookline.

But that doesn’t mean New Hampshire drinks an inordinate amount of liquor.

In fact, we’re just about average when it comes to imbibing, despite our regular perch atop online “most drunken state” lists, or the presence of news stories with headlines such as “New Hampshire Consumes Nearly Twice the National Average for Alcohol,” which graced Boston.com on Wednesday.

That story was based on an April study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which carried a very careful title: “Apparent per capita alcohol consumption: National, state and regional trends, 1977-2012.”

The study mostly concerned itself with the fact that total alcohol consumption has been on a slight rise nationally since the late 1990s after falling for years, but it also detailed state-by-state analysis.

Why did the title include “apparent”? Because, as the report noted in a section titled Limitations: “Many factors may result in inaccuracies in estimates of per capita alcohol consumption. For instance, these estimates in some states may be inflated by such factors as cross-border sales to buyers from neighboring states (e.g., in New Hampshire).”

Inflated, indeed.

The state estimates that about half of New Hampshire’s liquor sales are made to out-of-state residents drawn by our lack of a sales tax.

In other words, we sell a lot of booze but other folks drink half of it.

And since New Hampshire sells almost exactly twice the U.S. average of alcohol per capita, according to the study, that seems to indicate we are very average in our own consumption.

Here are the numbers:

In 2012, the Institute study said, New Hampshire sold 47 million gallons of beer, 7.4 million gallons of wine and 5.1 million gallons of spirits.

The Institute then reduced these various types of liquor to their ethanol content, thus factoring out regional preferences for lighter and stronger beers, wine, or various strengths of spirits. New Hampshire, it said, sold 5.2 million gallons of ethanol, or 4.65 gallons per person, almost exactly twice the national average of 2.33 gallons per person.

As further evidence of how these numbers are fueled by cross-border sales in our liquor stores, consider results for the three main types of booze.

The study said we sell much less than twice the national average of beer: 1.9 gallons per person here, compared to the national average of 1.13. Beer is sold all over the place, of course, and because it’s less expensive, the lack of a sales tax is less of an incentive to drive over the border.

But New Hampshire sells more than twice the national average of wine (0.86 gallons per person, compared to the U.S. average of 0.42 gallons).

And we sell lots more than the national average of spirits – a whopping 2½ times as much (1.89 gallons, compared to 0.78 nationally).

Finally, consider that the Top 5 state liquor stores in terms of sales last year were located on or near the state’s borders – the two stores on Interstate 95 in Hampton plus stores in Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem – rather than in the most populous city, Manchester.

So far this fiscal year, five state liquor stores have seen sales rise by at least a million dollars compared to last year. That includes state liquor store 59 in Merrimack, just off Exit 11, which has seen sales rise 26.5 percent or $1.1 million, and store 22 in Brookline, on Route 13 not far from the Massachusetts border, which has seen sales rise 28 percent or $1.34 million.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).