Selling liquor is like being a legal drug dealer.

Ok, maybe that is hyperbolic. Although, alcohol is classified as a “central nervous system depressant” by those who classify such things. It is the most used and abused drug in the U.S., according to treatment centers. So…

I take back my retraction. Selling liquor is like being a legal drug dealer. Customers come into the store, and in exchange for paper money or a payment with a debit or credit card (one fundamental difference from actual drug dealers) I give them the central nervous system depressant of their choice.

Usually this is not a big deal for me. What and how much people imbibe is none of my business. “Usually” is not all the time, however. Sometimes selling liquor is a big deal for me.

I have seen some customers slowly escalate their drinking. I have seen others escalate not so slowly. I have sold liquor to people I know are in recovery from alcohol addiction. I have denied alcohol sales because a person was already intoxicated. I have completed alcohol sales and then feared the person was already intoxicated. Because if I sell alcohol to an intoxicated person, I could face legal penalties.

It against the law for me to sell alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated. If I do so, and that person causes death or injury, I can be sued for up to $350,000 including medical expenses. Even if that person only gets pulled over for a DWI, I can still face legal penalties. The police can and will come into the store and find out who was working that day and who sold the already intoxicated person alcohol.

So let’s talk liquor! For many years, Maine has two definite favorites: coffee brandy and cinnamon whisky. Yes, it is whisky with no “e” in this case. Apparently, the lack of the letter e involves Canada in some way. Did Canadians steal our e? The world may never know.

Because the state department in charge of such things tracks alcohol sales by size, these two liquors are not only the most popular liquor, they regularly hold several spots in the top sales list! While coffee brandy is still the number one seller, in 2020 it was briefly dethroned by that cinnamon whisky.

According to the Maine bureau in charge of such things, here are the final numbers for 2020 liquor sales: The coffee brandy holds three spots in the top 25. The cinnamon whisky holds four spots. More on this as we discuss liquor sizes.

No matter what kind of liquor you partake in, it is sold in different sizes. The largest size sold where I work is 1.75 liters. This is also known as a handle. Probably because most of the bottles this size have an actual handle on them. A handle of alcohol is also a half gallon, in case you were wondering.

The coffee brandy handle was the number one top selling alcohol in Maine in 2020. As for the cinnamon whisky, people do not usually buy it in this size, so it did not even make the top 25.

The next size down is one liter, which is also one quart. We carry some liquor in this size, but not all of them. The coffee brandy liter was number 14 on the 2020 sales list. The cinnamon whisky was not on the list once again.

After the liter comes the fifth, which is 750 ml. After trying various math problems to figure out why this size is known as a fifth, I finally turned to my favorite search engine. Apparently, 750 ml is very close to 1/5 of a gallon. So… it’s called a fifth.

Maybe someone drank one while doing this math?

A fifth of alcohol is sold in multiple formats as well. You can buy it in a glass bottle or in a plastic bottle. The plastic bottle is called a “traveler.” This is presumably because it is made of plastic, so it does not break as easily and is better for traveling. Maybe the TSA prefers it if you pack it in your luggage?

The coffee brandy traveler was ninth on the top sales for 2020, and the cinnamon whisky traveler was number 13. The glass version of the fifth for both products did not make the top 25.

Next, we have sizes known as a “pint” and a “half pint.” The pint is 375 milliliters — which, surprise — is not the actual amount of milliliters in a pint. I guess I should not be surprised at this point? The half-pint is 200 milliliters, which again is not half of the pint.

What is up with these size names? The pint of cinnamon whiskey was number 15 on the top sales in 2020. The coffee brandy pint did not make the top list.

Finally, we have the double shot and the nip. A double shot is 100 milliliters, and a nip is 50 milliliters. These numbers actually make some sense. A nip is the size of one shot of alcohol, and the double shot is twice that!

The nip of the cinnamon whiskey was eighth in the top sales of 2020. This is not really surprising, as people love to buy this. Customers will regularly buy between five and ten of these nips at a time. The company has caught on to this and started selling the nips in larger packages as well. You can buy a “sleeve” of the nips, which is a package of 10.

You can also buy a “party bucket” which comes in a large plastic bucket, with room for ice. It contains 20 nips, plus you get a free bucket after!

The double shot of the cinnamon whiskey was number 21 on the top sales. People also buy these ones in bulk, but not in the same amount.

I asked people before why they buy so many nips at a time when they could just… buy a larger bottle? The answer is almost always the same. “If I buy a bigger bottle, I will drink the whole thing.”

The nip, apparently, helps people control their consumption and keep track of how much they have consumed already. A definite downside of the nip is it also is much easier to consume in the car and dispose of the evidence. Anyone who has seen empty nips of this whisky on the side of the road knows what I am talking about. (Please do not litter!)

The nip does have a definite plus side though, no matter what kind of alcohol it is. If someone is cooking and a recipe calls for a shot of something. If you want to try a new kind of alcohol and do not want to invest in an entire large bottle. Nips are popular gifts for family members, and are great if you just want to make one mixed drink.

So go forth, imbibe responsibly and enjoy yourself!

From the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages, top sales for 2020:

#1 Allens 1.75 liters

#8 Fireball 50 ml, “nip”

#9 Allens 750 ml “traveler”

#13 Fireball 750 ml “traveler”

#14 Allens 1 liter

#15 Fireball 375 ml

#21 Fireball 100 ml “double shot”