Monday 10 January 2011

Beer is giving way to wine....

....whisky, vodka and rum.

Perhaps even to martini, shaken, not stirred.

Or champagne, or at least an affordable bubbly grape derived intoxicant; anyone can afford to hire a stretch limo these days if they want to, and anyone who does wants the drink to match that image.

Of course we don't want to believe it. Beer is for the masses. It should be accessible to all. We don't want to believe that the standard of living for the masses is greatly improved on what it was 100 years ago. We don't want to believe that even people who can't afford it still blow their credit card limit on silly status symbol purchases, but the number of numpties who do are becoming an increasing proportion of the population.

Now, of course, beer is for drinking at the pub with mates. There is absolutely no doubt that this is the very best way to drink beer. I drink beer in this mode several times a week. In fact, I probably drink far more beer in this format than is good for me. Sometimes I drink beer that is so dire it just doesn't deserve to be drunk, but when the crack is good, one has to suffer for the sake of one's mates. To be fair, my mates generally suggest moving to another pub in that situation, but then they are beer snobs, both of them.

It is an unfortunate fact that less people are drinking in the traditional pub. I'm no happier about that than the reader might be. More drinking is done at home or in restaurants or wine bars than in years gone by. Although it is a worthy and admirable cause to champion the pub and traditional beer drinking, it remains a fact that it is slowly decreasing. We can ponder why that might be, we can rally to the cause and try to stand in the way of change of use of our favourite pub, but ultimately there is little we can do about the fact.

I remain convinced that one of the contributory factors causing this trend is the ever increasing aspirations of an ever increasing proportion of the population. Most people want a nice car1, a big TV, a nice leather sofa, fitted kitchens and Jacuzzi baths. I've even heard tell that some common people even have bidets, whatever they are; gone are the days of the earth closet at the bottom of the yard.

I'm often told by beery people that we shouldn't try to compete with wine - there lies a path of disaster. Well, wine is competing with beer and I suggest we should lay down our denied inverted snobbery and fight back with our heads held high.


1To the extent that BMW drivers are more likely to drink Carling2 than decent beer these days.

2Yes, I expect to be threatened with being put over a certain Molson Coors Communications Partner's knee, that's why I mentioned the drink, but the threats, sadly, have yet to be realised.

Note: Data for the chart was extracted from the BBPA handbook 2008. Currently there is an error on the chart vertical scale. Should be 1000s hl%. I'll correct later.....


Neville Grundy said...

One can of course drink both. If I drink at home, it's more likely to be wine; if in a pub, which is most of my drinking, it's real ale. The choice of wine at home is because I sometimes find bottled beers, even those praised by beer bloggers, an unsatisfactory substitute for cask.

But I take your point, as illustrated by the graph, of the general change in drinking habits.

Unknown said...

Nev, I respect your choice of home drinking. The thing that worries me is that there are many people who have similar drinking habits.

Bearing in mind that most wine drunk in this country is not only made outside the UK but outside the EU. Although I respect your view that no beer is better in bottle than on draught, is it really true that no beer in bottle is better than wine?

The UK beer industry is in decline. The fact that it is wine that is benefiting is not only bad for the beer industry but bad for the UK economy; more imported beverages. Many very good small brewers could do a little better if more people ditched wine in favour of beer. Home drinking is where the beer market could make gains.

It does hearten me though that there is evidence of your snobby behaviour; only cask beer is worthy beer. Much better than wanting a BMW I feel.

Rob said...

Don't want to spread the word too soon but I will be working on another beer and cheese pairing event some point this year. Thats my dedication to beer snobbery.

StringersBeer said...

Well, according to some measures, beer consumption has been more-or-less static for some time and it's wine that's on the up.

(I showed a nice graph here)

I don't know how much mass wine drinking is an aspirational behaviour, or that there might be other drivers. As far as home drinking goes, bottle of wine is perhaps more conveniently picked up and plonked in the trolley than the equivalent in beer. Also, I wonder if home drinking choices are being made for men(?) in a way they wouldn't consider in the pub.

I wonder what changes in packaging might do? Like those 4 and 6 packs of 12oz bottles that you see a lot of in the US?

Unknown said...

Rob, good show, keep up the good work.

Stringers, I have of course failed to put in my reference. You should chastise me thoroughly for that omission. The raw data was from the BBPA handbook 2008 and I've converted barrels and hl to hl% using an assumption that wine is about 13% and using average beer strength figures from the same publication.

The book was given to me by Keith Bott, I thought that was a very nice thing to do saving me the expense of buying a copy. I suspect I'll be extracting more data from it soon.

Cooking Lager said...

Why is it a bad thing that clued up people are using their own hard earned money to improve their own standard of living rather than live in hovels and hand it over to publicans to improve their standard of living?

Unknown said...

Cookie, I have no problem with the fact people want to spend their money on luxury items. None what so ever. Arguably it is good that our standard of living has improved to the extent we can do so.

My point is that beer is seen as mucky and cheap and some beery people want to maintain that view. This can only damage the beer industry long term.

Cooking Lager said...

Now I get it mate, beer has to be aspirational rather than let’s say accessible or maybe even obtainable. I get that you are knocking up a premium product and you want people to value that premium product. I even get that as a small producer your cost base is weighted far more towards fixed costs, and is thus higher and that any small artisan production process will have a higher cost base and higher product price. Cheap accessible beer is as different a market to what you do as wine is a different market. Sure they are all drinkable grog, but that’s the only common denominator. Beer geeks love what you do; if there are enough of them you have a business. Affordable drinkable beer is as culturally ingrained as is the notion that sophistication comes from imported produce. It’s a legacy of hundreds of years of Empire. Good luck with convincing the aspirant middle classes to drink a hop bomb triple IPA rather than a nice Shiraz.

Unknown said...

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. The problem with statistics is that you can invariably find some that fit your argument:

As for aspirational drinkers, I thought you'd be all over them to sell them your quality bottled beer? Just don't try selling any to those Audi-driving cocks, they wouldn't know good beer even if it were on keg ;-)

Neville Grundy said...

Dave: most of my drinking is in pubs, around 4 or 5 times a week, minimum of 5 pints each time (and sometimes rather more), so I doubt I'm contributing to the decline in beer drinking. I usually drink the products of small breweries when they're on. I live alone, so drinking at home - whether beer or wine - has limited appeal, because drinking to me is a social activity.

I'm not snobbish about bottled beers. They can be acceptable, but I prefer the taste of cask. Even real ale in a bottle can seem too fizzy to me.

I don't understand comments about beer or wine drinking being aspirational, and as for a BMW: my 15 year old Fiat Punto suits me very well.

Unknown said...

Nev, I agree very much on drinking being a social activity. I'm also quite sure anyone who reads beer blogs regularly has no reason to feel that they are not doing enough to support the beer industry.

As for the aspirational thing, let me try and convince you; It was once noted during a conversation amongst beer writers that wine gets good coverage in the broadsheets and on TV. Conversely, beer does not get anything like the same coverage. A reason put forward was that the lovies in the journalistic and media world wouldn't get work if they didn't mix in the editors in swanky wine bars drinking respectable wine. Beer is for sad-sacks and losers, as someone once said. We know that's not true, but the upper echelons of society think it is.

However, please don't take my comments on cars too seriously. Although.......
can a Fiat Punto really last 15 years?

Ghost Drinker said...

Beer giving way to whisky ey? that's how it usually goes down for a night in at the Ghost house!!

Neville Grundy said...

My Fiat Punto took me down from Southport to Hampshire in the worst of the snow on a Saturday and back the next day (the journeys took 9 & 8 hours respectively). I saw many posh cars, including a couple of BMWs, abandoned along the way, but my trusty little car made it no trouble. I did go for a few pints (cask Thwaites Wainwright) after my return ~ I decided I'd earned it.

Unknown said...

I am not that convinced that for the majority of wine consumers drinking wine is an "aspirational activity" it is merely the mode of drinking they have increasingly adopted over the last 20 years. It is just what they drink every day 'cos they like it.

The average bottle price is round about £4.32 (not very high really)these wines are not top dollar, not made to be and are in most cases as different from "fine wine" as cooking lager is from "craft beer". It is not "fine wine" that has led this shift in consumption it is well made, varietally labelled high volume brands that err on the side of sweetness brands. i.e they have a similar profile(ish) in many ways to higher volume beer; soft, approachable easy to get packaging and off-dry. Dare I say it "cooking wine" well at least form the point of view of most snobby wine enthusiasts.

Cookie is right to say that to try and shift someone from a new world Shiraz with a hop rocket is doomed to failure.

Oh and wine columns are falling to the sword at a rate of knots (no bugger reads them)and the wine industry is as terrified as any that has been "supermarketed" about how to engage consumers who are increasingly moitivated by deals and price alone. Indeed large companies are thinking of and indeed are actually pulling out of the UK market

If there is a failure IMO it is that the big brewers have singularly failed to make new interesting and tasty volume beer brands which offer easy to understand variety, interest and flavour rather than merely clones of each other. It is not the winemakers fault the the large brewers have offered them a market to march right into.

carrycash said...

Thanks for the article.Yeah right beer is giving a way to wine..