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The lime crisis: How Chicago bars are coping with the shortage

Lime prices have skyrocketed. Is your daiquiri safe?


There's a serious lime shortage in Mexico, and it's impacting our cocktails here in Chicago. Most U.S. states get their limes from Mexico, where heavy rains and bacteria-ridden trees have reduced the crop, while cartels are stealing expensive truckloads of the limes that remain. The result: Lime prices have skyrocketed.

"In mid-February, lime prices began to climb, which isn't unusual, as lime prices always spike during the low production season," the Whistler's Billy Helmkamp tells us. "But what's different this time is how high prices have climbed and how long they've stayed there."

He says that the week of February 14, limes were $40 a case. On February 28, they were $60 a case. On March 7, they were $85 a case. And since March 14, they've been $100 a case. Compare that to 2013, when the cost of limes peaked at $50 a case for four weeks during the low season.

To deal with that, Helmkamp says they haven't adjusted prices, but they did pull some drinks from the menu.

"Because a portion of our menu changes daily, we have a self-imposed moratorium on adding cocktails that call for lime," he says. "That said, we didn't remove every lime-based drink from the menu because it's crucial the menu has balance and variety, so you can still find the Delhi Cooler and Dusty Boots on our menu."

Big Star, which uses tons of lime, has also been tweaking things.

"We've stopped automatically giving limes away with orders," publicist Jenna Liberman tells us. "If guests ask for limes, we are happy to provide them, but it isn't a perfunctory action. We've also begun cutting limes in half to stretch them a bit. We also no longer automatically serve limes with Tecate. We are not altering recipes or prices and look forward to letting the limes flow like water once the shortage passes."

Other bars are making small changes as well. At Sable, Mike Ryan said that they're "just paring down on our lime usage, but not really taking any drastic measures other than maybe pushing more sherry and vermouth drinks to help balance cost. Ours is a pretty large program so it can withstand a little rocking, but if the price keeps up like this for a while we might need to start thinking about some changes."

Analogue's Robby Haynes tells us they have someone "working the markets and supply chains" to find deals, but they're no longer garnishing drinks with lime and are trying to use lemon juice in dealer's choice cocktails. The Aviary's Charles Joly said they haven't made any changes at the Aviary, but "since the Office is all dealer's choice, you may see a bit less lime used."

Three Dots and a Dash uses lime in many of its drinks, but Paul McGee has no plans to change anything. Nor does La Sirena Clandestina's John Manion. 

There's no sign things will improve soon, but Haynes also shares our fears that summer drinking will be impacted.

"With daiquiri season right around the corner, we should all cross our collective fingers and hope things swing the other way," he says.

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