Sam Cooper’s beverage business is as if medieval times met the internet.
Based in Ceredigion in West Wales, he makes award-winning mead – an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey and water.
To supply the honey for his mead range, Mr. Cooper is also a professional beekeeper, looking after more than 500 beehives in 50 different locations or apiaries across Wales.
First selling his Afon Mel (Welsh for “Honey River”) bottled meads in 1999, he says sales have skyrocketed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
âWe have seen a huge increase in Internet orders since the first lockdown began,â Mr. Cooper said. “And he hasn’t disappeared.
“A lot of people obviously associate mead with medieval times, and it’s an ancient alcoholic beverageâ¦ but it’s now increasingly being drunk by a young, hipster scene.”
Since the onset of the coronavirus, there have been two main types of news regarding our drinking habits during a pandemic. Either we all drank way too much while stuck at home, or decided to cut back, away from the temptation of pubs and restaurants.
What has been little reported is the fact that the pandemic has made many of us more adventurous drinkers, with a surge in sales of more unusual drinks, as well as local wines of no interest. generally not traditional consumers.
The trend has crossed the Atlantic. In Manhattan, New York, Park Avenue Liquor Store opened in 1934, a year after Prohibition ended in the United States.
Family business, its current boss, Jonathan Goldstein, has a theory behind our newfound love for more experimental consumption.
âWhen all the bars had to close, people were stuck at home pretending to be a bartender or a cocktail mixologist, and they all got creative,â he says. âThey suddenly wanted to experiment, so we saw a surge in online orders for more unusual things.
âIn our liquor category, weird things like peanut butter or banana whiskey suddenly became very popular. Just like passion fruit liqueur and locally made schnapps – all different flavors … rhubarb , White peach.”
But have Mr. Goldstein’s customers returned to more traditional drinks as the world continues to slowly, and hopefully, return to normal? He says they didn’t.
“We are keeping a close eye on changing beverage trends, and we believe it [the new adventurousness] continue to. Thanks to the craft beer industry, people are more used to trying small brands and new things. “
Returning to the UK, wine retailer The Wine Society says that since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a sharp increase in sales of Austrian and Greek wines.
“One of the original goals when the Wine Society was established in 1874 was to present ‘wines hitherto unknown, or little known in this country,'” said Ewan Murray, its public relations manager.
“This continues to this day, and members of the Wine Society [you have to join to be able to place an order] are passionate explorers. Since early containment wine sales skyrocketed, and as our members first sought solace in the classic wines they know and love, exploration is once again at the forefront.
âThe two countries that have benefited the most are Austria and Greece.
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The Wine Society’s sales of Greek wines totaled Â£ 500,000 in 2019, reaching Â£ 700,000 last year and Â£ 2million so far in 2021. Meanwhile, demand for its Austrian bottles has faded. from Â£ 900,000 in 2019 to Â£ 1.4million in 2020, and Â£ 2.1million this year.
The big jump in the popularity of Greek wines probably includes people who have been denied their summer vacations in Greece, but the Austrian increase is surprising, beautiful as the wines of the country may be.
Wine writer and educator John Downes holds the industry’s top wine master’s degree. He says the extra downtime given to many wine enthusiasts has meant that many have decided to study the drink more.
âThe consumer has never been so ready to listen,â he adds.
In Devon, in the south-west of England, husband and wife team Russ and Gemma Wakeham are making a spirit that seems a bit odd for the UK – rum.
Made from molasses – the thick, black molasses that remains after the production of cane sugar – rum is most associated with the Caribbean.
The Wakehams were fans of the drink, so they decided to try making their own and their first bottle, Two Drifters, went on sale in April 2019.
âSince March 2020, we’ve seen a 200% increase in online sales month-over-month,â says Wakeham. âBefore Covid we hadn’t sold much online at all, just one or two bottles a month, and then all of a sudden we were seeing double-digit sales every day, and that just kept growing and growing.
âAnd we didn’t pay any ads, we’re just really good at telling our story on all social media platforms, and people found us that way.
âWe were selling the three main types of rum – white, dark and spicy, but since the pandemic we have experimented and introduced a [strong, 60% alcohol] pineapple rum. It is now our bestseller. “
Back in Wales, Mr. Cooper makes nine different types of traditional mead, both natural and flavored. These contain around 13% alcohol and are meant to be enjoyed at room temperature, like red wine.
He also sells three âsession meads,â which are a more recent development among mead makers. They are only 5% and designed to be refrigerated and drunk by volume like a beer.
âWe now sell 30,000 liters of both types of mead per year,â says Cooper. âThe pandemic has really helped increase interest in our drinks.
âAnd we’ve certainly also benefited from TV shows like Game of Thrones and Vikings, where mead is drunk. It made people around the house aware of the drink and made them want to try it. . “