Bars across America are feeling the burden of a nationwide lime shortage. It came about as a result of the confluence of several unusual things: there was awful weather for lime growing this year; there is a citrus-greening disease called "huanglongbing" (really) going around; and lime farmers are being extorted by drug cartels in Mexico.
The bad weather and the huanglongbing epidemic began to increase the cost of limes earlier this year. Then, the problem was made worse by the drug cartels. The Knights Templar is a powerful drug cartel in Mexico and has set its sights on the farmers in Michoacán, one of the favored locations for lime growth. The limes there were able to escape the bad weather and huanglongbing, making them more valuable than usual. Because prices for limes became so high, cartels like The Knights Templar began threatening farmers, seizing groves, and even hijacking trucks. Lime farmers how hire armed guards to transport their coveted citrus.
While the Mexican government is calling for a cease fire, farmers are still at odds with drug cartels. They have also deployed the military to deal with the issue directly. That's right, there are Mexican soldiers defending the right to bear limes.
All of those factors have had a ripple effect up into the United States. Bars and restaurants all across the nation are feeling the pain of high lime prices. Overall, prices surged 400 percent in the last year. In New York, limes run Jim Meehan, owner and operator of Please Don't Tell, $130 a case. They used to cost just $30. Bars in Chicago and California reported similar increases when polled by The Wire. Only one bar in Miami proper reported limes at less than $100 a case. They were $95, and "kind of smallish."
Several bars The Wire spoke with in Miami were only willing to discuss the lime shortage anonymously, because they are partaking in an underground lime market. One bartender is lucky enough to have lime trees in her backyard that have not been affected by ailments (or drug lords.) She has been picking even the smallest, saddest limes to bring to the bar. Another bar owner in Miami wouldn't give too much information about his lime source, noting that he was getting them "under the table." As for California bars, they didn't seem to have a black market to turn to because the local limes had suffered from greening and the state's terrible drought.
As for bar goers, they have been pretty understanding. Jennifer Davis, a bartender in Chicago, told The Wire, "I thought people would complain about the lack of limes but they don't. More often we get asked for lime juice now. That never happened when we served four limes with a Corona. Most people are okay with lemons because it is like that everywhere." Still, Davis' bar has managed to not adjust any cocktail recipes, nor have they increased prices. Meehan's bar took the same approach, saying, "We'll make [cost] up somewhere else. We haven't changed any recipes: the only thing I've done is asked the bar backs to juice one less bottle every night (when we run out, we juice to order) and I'm having all lime garnishes cut to order so there's no waste."
The biggest frustration comes when customers order a Corona. Bars we spoke with in Seattle, Portland, Miami, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles unanimously agreed: Corona's look really sad without a lime in them.
Indeed they do, bartenders of America. Indeed they do:
Wow. The lime shortage is a struggle for us all.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.