Why Is This News? Beer Beats Wine!

I never quite understand why this is even considered news at all? The L.A. Times is reporting that “Beer beats out wine as Americans’ booze of choice.” Their source for this so-called news is a new Gallup Poll entitled Majority in U.S. Drink Alcohol, Averaging Four Drinks a Week. But that’s not exactly news insofar as it’s been that way since the dawn of time, or thereabouts. The gallup poll is just a survey, of course, and prone to people’s prejudices and perceptions. So when they report that “Beer edges out wine by 39% to 35% as drinkers’ beverage of choice,” it’s hard not to laugh, and even harder to take it seriously. This is what people tell pollsters, and it’s pretty divorced from reality.

If you want a truer, more accurate picture of peoples’ tastes, look at what they buy. The World Health Organization, at their website, gives the following data, collected in 2005 (though it rarely changes by much):

Alcohol Consumption By Type:

  • Beer: 53%
  • Wine: 16%
  • Spirits: 31%

And the Ginley USDC 2010 reports that for 2009, the volume of alcohol sold in the U.S. — 3.3 billion cases — is divided as follows, giving beer an 85 share:

Alcohol Sales By Volume:

  • Beer: 85%
  • Wine: 6%
  • Spirits: 9%

And by retail dollars — a total $1.89 billion — beer still has a commanding lead:

Alcohol Sales By Dollars:

  • Beer: 52%
  • Wine: 14%
  • Spirits: 34%

It doesn’t really matter what people tell the voice on the other end of the phone when Gallup calls asking for peoples’ preferences, this is what they really drink. And while it does fluctuate over time, it’s been roughly like this as long as anybody can remember. Trying to turn it into something newsworthy takes a certain amount of opportunistic forgetfulness, ignorance and a willingness to ignore history.

And while somewhat petty, this also struck me in a way I couldn’t ignore, like someone slapped me. The author of the L.A. Times piece, Tiffany Hsu, refers to men as floozies, when she reports. “Men tend to be the biggest floozies, downing 6.2 drinks a week on average compared with 2.2 drinks for women.” Now I assume she owns a dictionary, and I was pretty sure what the definition of a floozy was. So after checking at least six dictionaries to confirm my suspicions — like it or not — a floozy is always described as a woman. It’s an old, archaic word you rarely hear these days, but it doesn’t mean someone who drinks too much, as she appears to believe.

There’s also other findings in the Gallup Poll results, part of their annual Consumption Habits poll, and some are interesting, if not altogether showing anything particularly novel or new. But toward the end of Gallup’s press release, they make this obnoxious statement in the conclusion, which they title “The Bottom Line.”

With drinking comes overdrinking, and despite possible reluctance by some respondents to admit problems, one in five drinkers — representing 14% of all U.S. adults — say they sometimes drink too much.

Okay, first of all, WTF! “With drinking comes overdrinking?” No it doesn’t. It’s hardly a fait accompli. Even by their own numbers, that’s twisted logic. 86% of the people polled say they don’t drink too much so one clearly does not follow from the other, now does it? And how about this for twisting; “one in five” is 20%, not even close to 14%. You can’t even say that’s rounding, it’s simply inflating the numbers. So much for even the illusion of accuracy.

And just the idea that one alcoholic beverage has “beat” the other is annoying, too. I may prefer beer, but as a cross-drinker — like most people, frankly — I don’t feel that they’re competing in an us vs. them kind of way. It seems only news outlets hungry for headlines pit the two against one another. The first sentence of the article is “Score one for beer.” What was the contest?

There are plenty of positive stories from the world of beer that mainstream media could be covering. As Garrett Oliver recently wrote in Food & Wine magazine, one of the Crimes Against Beer is its continuing lack of media coverage. Oliver writes. “The public is yearning for more knowledge about beer, and nobody’s giving it to them. Even though craft beer is more popular than wine in the US, every major newspaper has a wine column, and almost nobody has a beer column. What’s wrong with this picture?”

What’s wrong, indeed.

UPDATE: An interesting side discussion came out of my linking Garrett Oliver’s piece, Crimes Against Beer, in which he casually mentions that “craft beer is more popular than wine in the US.” I confess that when I first read that, I thought it couldn’t be correct, but since it wasn’t relevant to the broader point I was trying to make in this post, I didn’t dwell on it. Alan, from A Good Beer Blog, however, did, and used it as a launching point for his own post, Is All That Made Up Stuff A Problem With The Dialogue?. He also did a little digging this morning to get at the actual numbers, and between the two of us, here’s what we found. Alan looked at statistics gathered by the Brewers Association and the Wine Institute. He found that in 2011, there were 347 million cases of wine and 11,468,152 barrels of craft beer sold in the U.S. From that he concluded that craft beer volume is roughly one-third of wine. Being lazier than Alan, I looked at retail dollars from the same sources and saw that there was an “estimated $8.7 billion” in craft beer sales and $32.5 billion in U.S. wine sales. That works out to craft beer selling about 26.8% — just over one-quarter — of wine sales. So no matter how you slice it, craft beer sales are nowhere near that of wine sold in America. That number could be slightly higher, as my one quibble with this is that the Brewers Association definition of what it means to be a craft beer is fine for their purposes (which is membership-based) but is not practical in the real world where what makes a beer crafty is, to my mind at least, how it’s made and how it tastes. I do, for example, consider Blue Moon a craft beer. And that would change the numbers to some degree, but I suspect not enough to alter the fact that wine still outsells craft beer, at least for now.


  1. says

    Nice statistics,
    No wonder, people drink more beer than wine.
    I agree with you on “With drinking comes overdrinking?” No it doesn’t.

  2. Jen says

    I’m afraid I got stuck at the misuse of the word floozy. How depressing, that a journalist/writer for the LA Times doesn’t know what that word means, and worse, was confident enough in her ignorance to use the word anyway. Could she have typed “boozer” in wrong and autocorrect chose floozy? What happened to editors? I’m used to jerks on the web boasting that grammar, spelling, and good writing no longer matter, but when journalists stop caring…

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