Kerala bid a spirited goodbye to 2019 by imbibing nearly ₹523 crore of legal liquor.
Citizens in Thiruvananthapuram followed by their compatriots in Kochi bought more legal liquor than residents in other urban localities during the Christmas-New Year season of heady indulgence.
Officials said the sale of legal liquor increased by 16% in 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, according to initial estimates of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco), the State-owned liquor wholesale and retail monopoly.
An excise official attributed the increase in sale to gaining social acceptance for alcohol in family and other get-togethers and functions such as marriages and birthday parties.
Outlets near beach and hill resorts had also registered a marked increase in liquor sales, pointing to the rise in tourist arrivals. The sale of liquor had peaked in clubs and bar hotels that organised New Year eve parties. Many managements kept the bar open till midnight.
The amount of alcohol sold through licensed bar hotels and beer and wine parlours and toddy outlets remained unquantified for now.
Excise officials conceded that bootleg liquor, homemade fortified wine, hooch and moonshine also appropriated a sizeable segment of the vast market for cheap and hard spirits.
Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. The sale of legal liquor has continued on an upward spiral despite the prohibitive tax on branded alcohol products and an arguably disproportionate number of dry days.
The Left Democratic Front government had raised the legal drinking age from 21 to 23 years in 2017 in an alleged attempt to blunt the Congress-led Opposition's criticism that it had adopted a permissive liquor policy to pander to the interests of bar hoteliers and distillers.
However, officials said the move appeared to have merely driven underage drinking underground.
Officials said that majority of consumers preferred popular brands of cheap Indian made brandy and rum. Premium counters retailing costlier brands and foreign-made foreign liquor also registered high sales.