It’s all about crossing the border this week as punters try to escape the new rise in alcohol prices that isn’t just hitting problem drinkers – it’s hitting everyone.
We visited offices and supermarkets on both sides of the border this week just to see in real terms how much cheaper people in the North have it, and the results were enough to get you drunk!
The new minimum unit price (MUP) introduced on Tuesday means the cheapest can of beer is now €1.70 and the cheapest bottle of wine €7.40. Vodka and gin will cost a minimum of €20.70 and whiskey will go up to a minimum of €22.
It is designed to hit problem drinkers and ease the strain on health services from alcohol-related conditions, which would cost us more than €2 billion a year.
Therefore the Sunday world hit the road to compare prices between off-sale and supermarkets on both sides of the border.
Newry and Dundalk were clearly in the middle of this lovely New Year’s lull, the Christmas craziness having died down, and while Covid is still at the forefront of business owners’ minds, creeping signs of life, life almost “normal”, were seen.
In Newry, an off-licence worker told us that he and other office workers like him had already seen what they believe was the start of an influx of southerners into northern border towns to take a drink before this weekend. .
Several of my mates who are originally from Belfast, but based in Dublin for work, told me they were going to ‘stock up’ before heading south again.
Another source listening to the ground in the underworld around the border in the Derry area said he knew small-time drug dealers in the south, who sell ‘party packs’ to drug addicts before and during each weekend, considered jumping over the border to buy bottles of cheap spirits before returning to the south to “make a few extra pounds” on door-to-door visits.
What we found on our travels was that more premium brands of alcoholic beverages weren’t as heavily affected by the new MUP laws as cheaper brands – i.e. beverages targeted by MUP, so we focused on low-cost products. .
For example, a 70cl bottle of Bushmills in a supermarket in the North will cost you £20 / €23.97, whereas in the Republic in the same supermarket it’s €23 / £19.18, so it comes down to cheaper in the Republic.
It is important to note at this point that some brands and sizes of beer packs cannot be compared identically, as some brands, supermarket chains and multi-pack sizes differ when crossing the border and back.
Also, we skipped the drinks that were on special.
We first headed to The Wine Company off sales in Newry, where we picked up some of their cheaper deals, to compare with similar products just across the border in Dundalk.
Our large order from The Wine Company consisted of a 70cl ‘ten glasses’ bottle of Kulov Vodka (£12.49/€14.95), a two-litre bottle of Strongbow (£3.49/€4.18) , a bottle of Buckfast (£7.99/€9.56), a Carlsberg 12-pack (£10.49/€12.56) and two cans of high-alcohol alcopops called Four Loko Fruit Punch ( £3.29/€3.94) each.
We also stopped at two major brand supermarkets in the city, which locals say have also seen a marked increase in the number of people living in the neighboring Republic doing “alcohol shopping”.
We bought a 70cl bottle of own brand blended whiskey for £10.79/€12.92. At another large supermarket we bought a pack of 18 Carlsberg cans (440ml) for £18.99 / €22.74.
With a boot full of booze, we headed to the border to see if there was any major difference for ourselves.
When we arrived in Dundalk, a mural on the outskirts of town, aimed at people leaving for the north, said all in truth: ‘Okay, I’m far away.’
I couldn’t help but think that a small amendment underneath might read: “…for a postponement.”
There we went to another big supermarket, and bought a bottle of own brand whiskey for €22.50/£18.79, which had a significant price difference to the bottle from the supermarket in the North, which is exactly €9.57/£8.
Comparatively, we bought a 15-pack of Carlsberg cans (500ml) for €28/£23.38 from another supermarket in Dundalk.
That’s a €14.84 / £12.39 difference – and in the cheaper ‘Nordie’ pack you actually get a bit more beer (7L 920ml compared to the 15 pack 7L 500ml).
Meanwhile, at the Dispensaries in Dundalk, we picked up a 70cl bottle of Glen’s Vodka for €20.75/£17.32. While the difference in quality between Glen’s and Kulov vodka is up to the drinker to decide, both are towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, and the difference between the two was £4.83 / €5.78. Although they could not be compared identically, again there was quite a difference.
A bottle of Buckfast also popped up. In local Dundalk offices, a bottle of the famous plonk costs €14/£11.69, a price hike of £3.70/€4.43. In one supermarket we visited, ‘Bucky’ was actually more than that, at €15/£12.52.
The drinks that one might get the impression that the new legislation has been introduced to reduce, the alcopops, we were able to compare identically.
A can of Four Loko Fruit Punch, a very strong alcopop at 8.5% volume, like some white wines, cost us €5/£4.17, a difference of 68p/81c between the can bought in the north outside licence, which we found surprising, given that it is one of the drinks we believe would have been heavily impacted by the MUP.
If you were to buy six, that’s an extra £4.08 / €4.88, so it would start adding up very quickly.
This was obviously by no means a thorough assessment of the price increases introduced by the MUP, but it served as an interesting litmus test of why many off-sale sales along the Northern Irish border are set to gain a lot of money with the new fatwa on cheap alcohol.