Spirits Lifted During Pandemic, Liquor Receipts Show

The liquor, beer and mixed-drink tax collection figures are in for all of 2020 and for the first two months of 2021, so alcohol consumption in Arkansas during the coronavirus pandemic can now be compared with the before times.

Conclusion? Arkansans drank a lot more at home and a lot less at bars. This isn’t surprising, given that bars and restaurants were closed in varying degrees during the period, not to mention the state allowing retail liquor stores to deliver on an “emergency” basis beginning in March 2020.

Collections of the state’s 3% excise tax on liquor sales rose 25.4% during the 12-month period of March 2020 through February 2021, while beer excise tax collections grew 16.5%. Collections on the mixed-drink tax, meanwhile, fell 32.8%.

Total tax collections — liquor, beer and mixed-drink combined — for the pandemic period, however, didn’t move much compared with pre-pandemic days, slipping to $29,907,656 in 2020-21 from $30,560,164 in 2019-20, a drop of just 2.1%.

What the accompanying charts below don’t show is that tax collections on liquor and beer sales in January and February of this year are trending quite a bit higher than the same months in previous years. John Akins, co-owner of Legacy Wine & Spirits in Little Rock and president of the United Beverage Retailers of Arkansas, said he had seen the same pattern, but that sales had leveled off in the past two months.

“I imagine we will see liquor sales either kind of flatline or potentially go back down, now that the restrictions are being lifted and people are starting to go back to restaurants,” he said.

The Arkansas Legislature approved legislation this session making alcohol delivery a permanent fixture in the state. It lets retail liquor stores, microbrewery restaurants and small breweries deliver alcoholic beverages to homes of consumers at least 21 years old who live in a wet county.

Delivery was a saving grace for retail liquor stores in Arkansas during the pandemic, Akins said. Without delivery, “I think a lot of liquor stores would have been in trouble.”

Even now, Akins said, delivery “is still catching on, still to this day. It’s only going to increase,” though it’s not a significant part of his sales at Legacy Wine & Spirits.

Pandemic Alcohol Sales Trends

Comparing tax receipts for March 2019-February 2020, before the pandemic hit, to the corresponding months in 2020-21

Source: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration