Are UK drinking habits becoming more like those of Southern Europe?

The booming consumption of craft and artisanal spirits and beers in the UK is in full swing. Drinkers everywhere are trading up their mass-produced bottles of big brand names for small-batch beverages distilled and brewed with love. Could this shift towards higher quality represent a move towards lower quantity?

Firstly, the UK ranks lower on the litres of alcohol consumed per capita than you might think. 2011 stats from the OECD shows that the average Briton quaffs about 10 litres of alcohol per year versus 11.6 in Ireland, 12.6 litres in France and an astounding 15.3 litres in Luxembourg (2009 stats). These figures are expected to drop as alcohol consumption across the EU declines, even in the UK where the BBC reported in 2010 that consumption had fallen by 13% since 2004. 

Binge drinking, widely played up in the media as a public health concern in the UK, is definitely more frequent than in other EU countries with 12% admitting to drinking 5-6 measures in one sitting, 6% claiming to drink between 7-9 measures and 6% downing 10 or more. Compare this with Southern European countries whose respective percentages never cross the 2% barrier and are primarily 0%. 

But UK policies are driving down the rate of binge drinking, primarily amongst the 16-26 demographic which reported a 23% decline in drinking frequency between 1998 and 2010. This year witnessed the implementation of a law that essentially amounted to establishing a floor for alcoholic beverages, making it impossible for retailers to price drinks at below cost or at significant discounts. While on the other end of the spectrum, the government scrapped the duty escalator which added an annual cost to alcohol at 2% above inflation, a law reviled by many a responsible drinker as well as drinks lobbyists such as the Wine and Spirit Trade Association that encourage drinking habits closer to those in Southern Europe.

In another sign that the UK may be moving more towards continental habits of quality over quantity spirits, the value of gin sales has decreased by 2% in recent years while sales of craft gins have skyrocketed 40%

Considering all this, it seems that the rise in craft beverage sales will continue as the young drink less often and cheap swill is no longer that cheap. Of course, that hasn’t prevented studies such as this one that show the average Briton spends the better part of a year of their life hungover with some experiencing a painful 3,000 hangovers. That's over 8 years!