Life under quarantine has required varying degrees of sacrifice for pretty much everyone, but not all lockdowns are created equal. Case in point: Mexico’s understanding of what does and does not constitute essential business activity has put Latin America’s largest country on the brink of a beer shortage.
According to the Guardian, Mexico’s government put a stop to domestic beer production in early April, arguing that brewing was a nonessential activity. Instead of magically turning the entire country into teetotalers overnight, the decree has led to widespread shortages. Oxxo, Latin America’s largest convenience store chain, recently admitted that its beer supply would soon disappear, encouraging panic buying and long lines similar to the scenes at US grocery stores during the first days of the pandemic.
Just as self-styled American entrepreneurs spent March snatching up hand sanitizer and reselling it at exorbitant prices, beer has become something of a black market commodity in Mexico. With a shortage across 25 of the country’s states, Mexico News Daily reports that a six pack can cost up to 300 percent of what it did pre-crisis in black market trading. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, the news outlet also notes that beer is being smuggled out of the US and into Mexico.
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Beyond the difficulty of safely brewing beer without spreading Covid-19, there are other reasons for the ban. Some Mexican municipalities have forbidden beer sales for the duration of the Covid-19 lockdown regardless of supply, touting it as a measure to curb domestic violence while the country shelters in place.
Regardless of its motivations, the ban comes at a cost for merchants. As Cuauhtémoc Rivera, director of Mexico’s National Alliance of Small Merchants (Anpec), tells the Guardian, beer sales can account for as much as 40 percent of revenue at small mom and pop outlets during the warmer months.
While browsing the hashtag #LaUltimaChela (the last beer) suggests thirsty Mexicans have at least maintained a sense of humor, the fact that Mexican breweries can still export beer has to be frustrating for both consumers and small businesses. Constellation Brands, responsible for exporting Modelo, Corona and Pacifico has been operating as usual for the American market.
No matter how you feel about drinking, demanding that most citizens of a country give up on beer just as the summer starts to heat up sure is a lot to ask. Here’s hoping that Mexico can put itself in a position to start up socially distant brewing again soon.