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What’s new at the bar?

3 min read


These days, U.S. consumers are nearly as likely to order a glass of wine as a beer, according to a new Gallup poll that reveals a shift in the alcoholic beverage of choice from two decades ago, when beer enjoyed a 20-point lead. It’s one of several shifting trends revealed by the poll, which compares current data with information collected between 1992 and 1994.

Some 60% of Americans say they drink an alcoholic beverage at least occasionally, the poll found, with 36% saying they prefer a beer, 35% opting for wine and 23% choosing liquor. Shifting trends are most pronounced among people age 18-to-29; in 1992, 71% of the drinkers in that age group chose beer compared to 41% this year; meanwhile, 24% of the group opts for wine today compared to 14% two decades ago, and 28% sip spirits compared to 13% in 1992. Older consumers made fewer changes, but those in the 30-to-49 range inched away from beer and wine toward spirits while 46% of those 50 and older opted for wine instead of cocktails or beer.

U.S. beer sales rose 1% last year, according to the Brewers Association, while wine sales increased 2% according to the Wine Institute. Meanwhile, the distilled spirits segment gained from both the beer and wine categories, growing sales 3% in 2012, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Beer sales may be slowing overall, but craft brewers aren’t feeling the pain. Sales of craft brews rose 17% last year, according to the Brewers Association, and there was no shortage of buzz building around small-batch brews. So much buzz, in fact, that some in the business say we might be seeing a bubble, including Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company co-founder Steve Donohoe, interviewed last month by the Silicon Valley Business Journal. He sees similarities with the late ‘90s craft beer bubble, but with a key difference that likely means there won’t be such a hard landing this time around. “People thought they could make a bundle of money, and product became secondary. I’m not seeing that as much this time. People realize they aren’t going to make a ton of money and are getting into it because they like what they do,” he told the Journal.

Beer makers who like what they do don’t tend to rest on their laurels. In June, Wine Enthusiast reported on the hottest beer trends of the year, including experimental blends that have launched new beer categories and new brews that combine some of the flavors of wine.

More Gallup findings:

  • 53% of men choose beer while 52% of women pick wine, and the long-term data show an ongoing and pronounced difference between the sexes
  • 35% of those surveyed said they had had an alcoholic beverage in the last 24 hours and 29% had sipped one within the past week
  • 71% of beer drinkers reported having had a drink in the past week, compared with 63% of wine drinkers and 55% of liquor drinkers
  • 21% say they sometimes over-indulge in alcohol, down from the all-time high of 35% in 1989

What are the top trends at your bar? Tell us in the comments.

Image credit: iStockphoto