The National Binge

THE COUNTRY has been on a massive drinking rampage since the return of the Fianna Fail Government to power in early summer. The sales of alcohol have rocketted by 15% in the three months from June to September over the same period last year, and the expectations in the drink trade are that this Christmas will see the most massive drinking spree in our history.


The numbers of people drinking in Ireland has inncreased considerably over the last decade. In 1968, 58% of the adult population drank alcohol, and by 1975 this figure had increased to 65%.The calculations are that today nearly 70% are drinkers.

In spite of this, however, the consumption levels of alcohol in Ireland are low compared with those in other EEC countries. The annual per capita consumption of alcoholic drink, expressed in litres of 100% alcohol, is 16.5 in France; 13.4 in Luxembourg; 12.7 in Italy; 12.5 in West Germany; 10.2 in Belgium; 9.2 in Denmark, followed by Ireland with just 8.7. Bottom of the alcohol league are the UK with 8.4 and Holland with 8.3.

However, Ireland does spend more of its consumed expenditure on alcohol than any other EEC country (12%) but this anomaly is explained by the very high duties on drink in Ireland and the relatively low income per capita.

Women and young people have accounted almost enntirely for the increase in drinking patterns-in Ireland in the last decade. In the net increase in drinkers, the new drinkers have been 3 to 1 in favour of women, 57% of whom now drink. And the WOIT en are mainly spirit drinkers. In 1968, only 14% of adult women drank spirits, while now 20% do so on a regular basis. The increase in drinking habits among women is particularly marked in the under-thirty age group. Ten years ago only 18% of these were drinking spirits while 29'% are now doing so. Male drinking patterns have remained more stable over the period; for instance in 1968, 14% of men under 30 were drinking spirits, while today that figure has risen by only 4%.

While the consumption of beer has gone up in the last decade by just 50%, wines and spirits have doubled. Over 5 million bottles of table wine were consumed last year, amounting to nearly half a million gallons.

A breakdown of the doubbling in consumption of spirits in the decade shows that whiskey increased by 66%; brandy by 18%; gin by 21 % and vodka by a staggering 39.4%, an almost five fold increase. And it has been the new women drinkers who have been primarily responssible for the hugely increased vodka consumption.

Every Saturday night in Ireland (26 counties), 195,000 vodka drinks are consumed by women under thirty years of age and these same women drink 4500 cases of vodka a week . The social consequences of these consumption patterns bear investigation!

Vodka's popularity is attributable to its innocuoussness. It tastes of nothing, doesn't smell and mixes with almost anything. So one can choose a flavour (ginger ale, soda, tonic, orange,lemon, coke, etc.) and then add vodka to it purely for the 'kick'. Unlike beers and especially stout, it is not an acquired taste, it is no taste. Vodka is a grain spirit, filltered un til all flavour is taken out of it, whereas all the other spirits have flavours added or left in them.

The statistics on average consumption of spirits per week reveal surprisingly low patterns. On average, men drink 5.2 'half ones' per week, while women drink 3.7.

The gregariousness of the Irish is sharply underlined by our drinking habits. While in America 80% of all drinkking is done in the home, in Ireland 75% of all drinking is done in pubs of clubs, though there has been a gradual decline in this figure over the decade. The old Irish bars seem on the decline, however, with 85% of drink sales now taking place in lounges of hotels as commpared with 55% ten years ago, when the public bar was all the rage.