Michigan Sets New Record

MLive by Paula Gardner, March 30, 2016

Michigan set a record for liquor sales in 2015, fueled in part by growth in Detroit as an entertainment destination while the craft cocktail movement takes hold in the state.

Detroit is home to 28 of the top 100 wholesale liquor buyers in Michigan, double the city's total on the list in 2010. Four of the top 5 in Michigan are located in Detroit, while the fifth – the Pantheon Club, a topless bar in Dearborn, ranked number 4 – is located on the city's western border.

Number one across the state among wholesale liquor buyers was a Detroit food and beverage establishment that opened in late 2014: Punch Bowl Social.

The bar-restaurant at 1331 Broadway in Dan Gilbert's Z Building opened in December 2014, and it rocketed to the top of the list of liquor buyers. It purchased $515,840 in spirits from the state for resale in 2015.

Punch Bowl Social is a place where its CEO describes its locally sourced culinary program and popular entertainment – like bowling and ping pong. But it's also a bar, and patrons there to eat or play also tend to drink, said Robert Thompson, its CEO and founder. Those beverages can be beer, but the cocktails are a focus. They help elevate alcohol to 50 percent of Punch Bowl Social's revenue. The most popular is "You must bring us.. .A shrubbery," a name that plays off Monty Python and a drink that includes Skyy moscato vodka, watermelon shrub, and lemon juice. The price: $8 for one, $32 if four people want to share.

"We keep our craft beverage program on an edge," Thompson said. "We always try to stay focused on what's current and never get stale."

Due to a state law on the books since 1933, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission sells spirits to the 15,000 bars and restaurants licensed to sell liquor by-the-glass.

From 2010 to 2015, wholesale liquor sales grew 16.6 percent, according to data from the MLCC. Some of that includes annual price increases, estimated at about 1 percent per year.

The top 100 wholesale buyers during that time bought proportionately more: The most active licenses in the state accounts for 18.74 percent growth over the last five years. They reached $23.34 million in purchases by 2015.

The numbers only show establishments licensed for on-premise consumption. Not on this list are any of the state's casinos or most hotels, which operate under another type of license. Also not a part of these numbers: Beer and wine sales, which are sold to bars and restaurants through private distributors and not via the state.

These numbers also offer no information on how many drinks were sold and the revenue or profit margin on those drinks.

However, as an indicator of where the top buyers are located and how much they are spending, the state's records can be extrapolated to presume the busiest bars for sprits in the state – given that all of this liquor was purchased to be sold by the glass.