MUMBAI: Even as beer sales in Maharashtra refuse to return to pre-highway liquor ban days, hard liquor sales (Indian-made foreign liquor and country liquor) are rising. Nearly two crore litres of beer (including 20 lakh in Mumbai) have been consumed since the ban on liquor shops and permit rooms from December 2016, officials revealed. After the ban was partially lifted in cities on August 2017 and completely in small towns and talukas from March 2018, sales of IMFL and CL together went up by 4.3 crore litres in 2018-19, including 56 lakh litres in Mumbai. Experts said a 650ml beer bottle cost the same as an 180ml IMFL bottle due to heavy taxes. Since IMFL and CL are available in ready-to-serve mode 24×7, against deep-freezing needed for beer, which offers a lesser ‘kick’ compared to hard liquor, patrons are going for it, they said. Looking at the health of patrons, beer and wine should always be priced lower than IMFL/CL, as the former contains 5-9% pure spirits, while the latter have 44% pure spirits, they said. Excise department sources said 17% shops and bars within 500 metres from state and national highways (shut down after an SC order post-December 2016) are still to be reopened due to lack of new space 500 metres from highways. Excise officials argued that since beer required deep freezers and ready-to-serve facilities, its sale had not normalised like IMFL and CL. But the experts admitted that beer and wine, with less pure spirits and containing naturally fermented alcohol, are considered healthier in US, China and Europe, and are promoted with low pricing. An official said if beer sales are being replaced by hard liquor, it was not a healthy sign for patrons in the state, who seem keen on getting a better ‘kick’ at the same price. A 650ml beer bottle (two glasses) is priced almost same as an 180ml IMFL bottle (three pegs) due to heavy taxation. In Mumbai, beer consumption went down by 19 lakh litres between 2016-17 and 2018-19 following the ban, that mostly affected sales in 2017-18. IMFL and CL sales improved, with consumption going up by 32 lakh litres and 24 lakh litres respectively for that period. People quickly picked up hard liquor, as against beer, which is struggling to reach the 2016-17 level by the end of 2018-19. Expert Sharad Phadnis said people go in for IMFL/CL as pricing of beer and IMFL is almost same.