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Beer sales overall are dropping. They are dropping much more in pubs. This is a fact that can be backed up by hard evidence. I have here a copy of the 2011 BBPA Statistical Handbook. It is very good indeed. It shows for instance that beer sales in on "On trade" was around 67% of the total in 2000. In 2010 it was just under 51%. "Off sales" by comparison was less than 32% in 2000 but in 2010 only a shade under 50%. For the first time in history beer consumption in pubs, when you bear in mind "on trade" includes restaurants, hotels and other public drinking establishments, is no longer the dominant beer market.

There are many factors that are causing this. One, of course, is the fact that the traditional pub is no longer fashionable, or at least not as much as it used to be. Eating out has become much more popular and it is very evident that fewer and fewer pubs can survive with a pure wet trade.

An increasing awareness of the health harm that can result from excessive consumption of alcohol, and an increasing social stigma being associated with "binge drinking" and "alcohol related crime" led in part by the tabloid press, further damages the industry.

While some are worried that beer is becoming pompous and somehow above itself1, I have consistently and repeatedly argued that this is a good thing. People are turning away from beer and pubs in favour of the grape, home drinking and restaurants. Overall alcohol consumption is dropping, although having only dropped back to around the same level as the year 2000. More importantly the number of cases of drunkenness has decreased from around 20 cases per 10,000 people in it's peak in the 1970s to less than 5 per 10,000 now. The thing that does bother me a little about this figure is that the police may be less inclined to prosecute purely for drunkenness these days. Good job really, otherwise I suspect I may have been prosecuted by now, and perhaps some of my readership too.

Whilst the supermarkets and their relatively low pricing of alcohol must surely be damaging the industry, there is very little we can realistically do about this. The vast majority of the general public see the supermarket as a good thing. The pricing is perceived as good, everything is under one roof and you can park your car right outside the door. However, the supermarket does not provide for a smaller proportion of the population who want something different. I rarely buy beer in the supermarket because they rarely have the beer I want to buy. I often go to the pub and buy beer, sometimes it's even the beer produced in my own brewery. I do so for a very good reason.

Hardknott beers at Craft Beer Co - one of an emerging number of contemporary beer bars

I could set up a cask, or even a keg, in my brewery, or in my garage or kitchen and enjoy my own beer at a much lower price. And I have done on occasions. I prefer to pay a little bit more and drink it in a pub. Why?

Because the pub is warmer than the brewery. Because I can sit and talk rubbish about nothing with the friends I have at the pub. Because someone gives me my beer in a clean glass and wipes the tables down, the decore is better and overall the experience is much better than at the brewery or at home.

It bothers me a lot that there are repeated noises from many people about how the supermarkets are damaging the pub and beer industry by their cut price alcohol. Whilst this may well be true what we inadvertently do is reinforce this commonly held belief. We are telling people that beer is cheaper in the supermarkets, so people now believe that more than ever.

Pubs are special because they add value to the drinkers experience. Special beer in a growing specialist beer market providing added value because the beer is more flavoursome, stronger, shipped from lands afar or perhaps just a little bit daft only goes to strengthen the beer market and helps to grow the businesses that I hope the reader would like to see flourish.

Beer snobbishness is good for beer, not bad.


1I was going to link here to several posts by other bloggers, but I realise that none of them quite say that. But there does seem to be an undertone of the old "beer is the drink of the common people" and "Beer should not be too expensive or snobby"

Here are some posts, although I suspect the reader has already seen them.

Boak and Bailey and again

There are of course good points made, but I can't help feeling that there is a lack of joined up thinking when it comes to how we worry about how beer is sold, marketed and priced. It was the Daily Mail piece this morning that caused me to write this piece.