ND again top state in beer consumption: Residents drank 43.3 gallons of beer on average last year
FARGO — The three Empire Liquors employees had no problem listing off the reasons why North Dakotans drink more beer than any other state’s residents.
“What else is there to do here?” Mike Kemp asked in between helping customers buy alcohol late Tuesday afternoon at the downtown Fargo liquor store.
North Dakota is the No. 1 state for beer consumption per capita, a recent report shows. Residents drank 43.3 gallons of beer on average in 2013, topping the ranking for the second straight year.
In second place was New Hampshire, with 42.2 gallons per capita. Just across the border, Minnesotans drank 28.7 gallons on average. Residents of Utah drank the least, with just 19.6 gallons each.
The study by Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry publication, is not exact. It’s calculated by dividing the amount of beer shipped to a state divided by the state’s residents.
Kemp and co-worker Tim Porter, who were running Empire Liquors’ cash registers Tuesday afternoon, rattled off a wide-ranging list of reasons why North Dakota ranked first in beer drinking — from the lack of hills sufficient for skiing to the long winters to the prevalence of beer-loving students and military personnel.
Porter said the strong economy is another factor.
“You have money,” he said. “What are you going to do on your off-time?”
“Drink,” Kemp answered.
Beer’s popularity in North Dakota has stayed high even though the beer industry in the Midwest has not fared well lately, according to Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights.
North Dakota took the No. 1 spot possibly because of the state’s traditional affinity for beer and the influx of oil workers, he said.
“The oil workers driving up the per capita (beer consumption) in North Dakota is a no-brainer,” he said, especially “when you’re talking about a small state.”
Jeremy Tijon, the store manager at Empire Liquors, said drinking was part of the state’s tradition.
He recalled memories from his childhood of men standing around a car arguing about its engine, each of them with a beer in their hands. Starting to drink at 14 or 15 is “kind of the norm,” he said.
“That is just part of our culture,” he said, adding that ethnic German and Scandinavian roots were part of the equation, too.
It’s not just a love for beer, though.
In 2011 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fargo-Moorhead had the third-highest rate of binge drinking among 200 metropolitan areas and the ninth-highest rate of heavy drinking. The CDC counts four drinks in one occasion for women — five for men — as binge drinking, while two or more drinks daily for men and one or more for women counts as heavy drinking.
Public health advocates in Fargo-Moorhead and North Dakota often note the need to curb excessive alcohol consumption here, due to the numerous problems that come with it — from drunken driving to health issues. They’ve cited the drinking culture as a factor, along with low alcohol taxes, drink specials and liquor license availability.
Despite the downsides, North Dakota’s reign as the top swiller of beer is still a point of pride for some.
“I like it,” said Mike Dalager, a bartender at Wurst Bier Hall in downtown Fargo.
Dalager said whether he’s behind the bar or sitting in front of the counter, beer is a welcome relief on the flat plains.
“You get eight months of this sort of depressing winter,” he said.
For those concerned, at least there’s a bright spot: The 43.3 gallons of beer each of the state’s of-age residents averaged in 2013 was a drop from the 45.8 gallons apiece in 2012, according to a similar study conducted that year by the Beer Institute.