Jeff Alworth has recently made a very interesting post on his Beervana blog entitled What If We Just Stop Drinking? which speculates on the effect on the beer industry if everyone curbed their drinking to the average of the entire population. While this is very much oriented towards the US, he makes a number of points that have featured on this blog over the years.
Beer consumption, like most things, is subject to a Pareto distribution. In the US, way over half of all beer is drunk by the top 10% of drinkers – see the graphic above. It’s probably much the same here. We responsible “moderate drinkers” who say we love pubs have to accept that they are sustained in business by people who would generally be classed as heavy, if not problem, drinkers.
Taking a median figure, if we look at all drinkers of alcohol in the US, the average person consumes only two drinks a week, which really isn’t very much. In the UK, the average adult drinks a mere two pints of beer in pubs a week, which isn’t going to keep very many of them in business. And that’s just a third of a pint of cask beer.
And the decline of pubgoing has been to a large extent driven by the decline of the kind of social occasion that encourages the sharing of a couple of drinks.
As entertainment options multiply, people spend far less time in the larger group settings that were once a place for drinking. Blame the Millennials all you want, but whatever happened to bowling and nights at the Elks Lodge? ...It's not just drinking, either. Church attendance has plummeted in that same period, and social club membership has almost completely vanished. And all of that happened before cell phones.Of course everyone isn’t going to stop drinking completely. But just imagine what the pub landscape would be like if they all cut down their drinking to the average level. We would be left with sanitised restaurants that happened to serve alcohol to the minority of their customers who wanted it. And that, pretty much, would be it.
Alcohol has been a feature of human life since well before we domesticated grains, and it's not going to vanish. But it is possible to imagine the amounts we drink shrinking by 50-75% in a few decades. Our focus on health has made heavy drinking a shameful thing, mirroring our attitudinal shifts on smoking. Given the shrinking number of opportunities for social drinking, an increased focus on health, the stigma against drunkenness, and the availability of other drugs—all trends that started years ago—it's hard to envision how consumption doesn't shrink.Do read the whole thing – it’s well worth it.