Beer’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated

On Friday, Gallup released the latest findings in their 25-year project to track alcohol consumption habits of Americans. Give the three-year run of unsettling numbers (beer down overall, the craft segment slowing), this may offer a glimmer of hope.

For a decade and a half, beer has been cited as the favorite beverage of about 40% of American drinkers, and that trend hasn’t changed. The good old days of beer being the preferred beverage of half of American drinkers is never coming back. Where most of the movement is happening, however, is the rise of popularity in liquor. Twenty years ago, 50% of drinkers preferred beer, 30% preferred wine, and 20% preferred liquor. Wine had been the initial beneficiary of beer’s decline, but now liquor is cutting into wine. There’s some evidence that these beverages behave differently in recessions, with beer and cheap liquor being more resilient. If that’s true, wine could be in real trouble.


The demographics of American drinking are also interesting. You would expect the popularity of the different beverages to vary by region—and so it is. The Midwest, where lots of beer-drinkers settled, is far and away the most beer-centric. In the whiskey-making South, liquor is the preferred tipple. Wine isn’t the most popular beverage in any region, but the region its most popular is the wine-producing West.

The really big numbers, as always, are next to gender. Men choose beer as their fave beverage over half the time. Just one in five women, by contrast, prefers beer. This is purely cultural. For the better part of a century, beer has been a hugely gendered beverage, pitched to and favored by men. But in certain places, women account for 40-50% of total beer consumption, while in others, the percentage is below the national average. Were women to adopt beer in proportion to men as they have in Portland and Providence, it would spark enormous growth.

Finally, consumption overall isn’t declining too badly.

“Despite slight changes in the type of alcoholic beverages drinkers favor, the proportion of Americans who report drinking alcohol has held steady over the past 20 years at just under two-thirds….

“Gallup measures the amount that Americans drink by asking those who ever drink how many drinks they had in the past seven days. The average number today is 4.0, similar to the figure most years since 2011. That includes the 30% of drinkers who say they had no alcoholic drink in the past seven days.”

Don’t worry, be happy, all is not lost in the world of beer—even with a recession looming on the horizon.

Jeff Alworth3 Comments