Sunday, 19 August 2018

Think about the average

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.

19 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie19 August 2018 at 19:51

    "In the UK, the average adult drinks a mere two pints of beer in pubs a week, and that’s just a third of a pint of cask beer".
    I do my best averaging two pints of cask beer a day in pubs, three pints during a busy month, but there's all too few of us proper beer drinkers nowadays - and all the youngsters don't even seem to realise what miserable lives they lead. They might live a year longer but it will seem more like ten years.

    ReplyDelete
  2. On the plus side, articles like this invariably cause me and my ilk to go out and drink more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maybe it's class aspiration?

    There are all these folk, who aren't sure what they are, but they're determined not to be whatever they think t' wekkin' class might be. And they show that by not doing the things that they connect with that class. Like using pubs?

    Perhaps some pubs should ditch the Sky Sport banners, and the meat raffles, and look at the neighbourhood?

    Heck, get that wood-burning stove lit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I understand that a small percentage of the population drinks heavily but can you show how their purchases are more than half of total beer consumption? I couldn't see clearly how that worked?

    Gary

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was invited out to the pub yesterday simply to drink beer and have a chat. So of course I went over. My local so I walked. Three pints in two hours is quite moderate I thought. Mind you I do this most evenings early or at 20.00. I don't see this as a problem or abnormal. What I do consider abnormal is the weakness of modern beer in boozers in the UK driven by government greed and nutty public health extremist puritans. 3.6%, 4.1%, 4.4% even 5% but apart from cider you rarely see any beer over 5%. I have addressed this by making and selling a real IPA (7.4%) and an Imperial stout (8.4%) and a bitter at 5.5%

    ReplyDelete
  6. Benny Off Crossroads20 August 2018 at 14:04

    Never in the field of human pub going was so much owed by so many to so few alkies.

    Thank god for intellectualizing drinking to turn it into a respectable hobby so as to mask alcoholism and enable the self destructive habits to keep pubs open.

    It is them pub men that keep pubs going so we can pop in once a month.

    The respect of a grateful nation.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This cannot be true. Pubs are responsible controlled environments. They would never enable problem drinking. The problem drinkers are keeping supermarkets going, not pubs.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Arsenal Fan 36's Greatest Tribute Act20 August 2018 at 16:22

    "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"

    Social occasions like finishing work for the day? The gig economy can't help.

    ReplyDelete
  9. These here Pareto curves aren't carved in granite. Yep, they apply to many things, notably such as to land area ownership in Britain. Once upon a time the number of votes someone effectively had was related to that too. Now it ain't. We fixed that, just by passing laws.

    They don't apply to plenty too, such as to the number of stars someone sees when they look up, to how many smartphones they own, nor to how many breaths people take in a year. Nature doesn't have one size fits all, nor one graph does either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I meant to add, does anyone have a graph for a non-Anglo-Saxon protestant country, e.g. France or Italy?

      Delete
    2. Of course not, but that kind of distribution to a greater or lesser degree is very commonplace in areas of discretionary expenditure.

      Delete
  10. 1970s DJ living under an assumed identity to escape operation yewtree21 August 2018 at 15:32

    This only proves that like smokers are a minority, so are drinkers. If pubs kicked into touch the drunks they might be more appealing to more people as temperance bars.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The Stafford Mudgie21 August 2018 at 15:49

    "temperance bars" - like coffee shops ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Coffee shops are very popular, I think I'll stick to my 3 or 4 pints a day (week days) average.

      Delete
    2. Or pubs with no one behind the bar to serve the demon drink.

      Delete
  12. Just an observation - I can't recall seeing more than a handful of really drunk folk in pubs in my lifetime, and I don't just visit pubs at 1.30 in the afternoon. Most of that extreme drinking must be done at home (or outside the GBG).

    Martin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But that "extreme drinking" is six or seven pints in an evening. It may make you pretty boisterous, but if you're used to it it won't make you visibly "extremely drunk".

      I've seen plenty of soporific drunks over the years (sometimes been one myself) but a lot fewer aggressive drunks (and, to my shame, I've been that too).

      Delete
  13. I wonder how much really heavy drinking is done in pubs these days apart from, say, Friday night sessions; it’s the prices.
    Both my father and FinL drank a lot of Scotch but at home; others drink slabs of lager. If either cut down average consumption would fall but with no effect on pubs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dunno. If we define "heavy drinkers" as those who consume over 50 units a week, I'd guess that a substantial proportion of those who do it mainly on beer are still doing it mainly in pubs. Amongst wine and spirit drinkers, far less so.

      Delete

Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments will probably be deleted unless I recognise the author.