Drinkers refine their tastes

Bitter remains a staple choice of the British pub-goer, but the popularity of alcopops and bottled lagers demonstrate a public willingness to experiment

Booze, a new three-part series launched by the BBC last week, claims that the British consume more than 25 billion drinks a year – enough to fill over 6,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

A recent study by Spectra Marketing, a division of Claritas Europe, examines the part alcohol plays in our lives – from celebration to solace – and how its association with sex and rebellion have made it a favourite with advertisers.

There is no doubt that alcohol consumption in the UK has evolved since the post-war period, from Dad popping down to the local for a bottle of milk stout, to a psychedelic world of alcopops and fantastically named cocktails. The survey asks whether we are really drinking more or whether there is just more choice, and where we choose to imbibe.

Often reserved in our opinions, it would appear that the UK public is very open-minded when it comes to choosing alcoholic drinks. The UK not only enjoys imported drinks, but also has one of the most mature beer markets in the world. The British are most willing to “give it a go” when it comes to selecting their tipple.

Spectra UK compares “light” drinkers (one to four pints/bottles of beer a week) with “heavy” drinkers (13-plus a week), and looks at the habits of beer drinkers throughout the UK. For instance, despite both enjoying the more traditional flavour of bitter, there would seem to be a huge diversity between the nature of those who have the odd pint and those who drink more regularly. Heavier drinkers tend to be from lower-income households and are most likely to be manual workers. These heavy drinkers shop at discount supermarkets and read tabloid newspapers, enjoy “going to the pub”, as well as football and fishing.

Less regular consumers of bitter enjoy gourmet foods and wines, travel a lot and are more likely than the average respondent to earn &£50,000-plus a year. Perhaps what this shows is that it is not the taste of the alcohol that differentiates, but the quantity.

Least likely to order a pint of bitter are 18to 24-year-olds, who drink branded bottled lagers more than the national average. While this age group has a tendency to drink their bottled lager in a pub or club, the survey shows that overall, more people drink between one and four units of bitter, bottled lager or canned lager a week at home. This reflects the desire to have a relaxing drink at home after work rather than socialising at the pub.

Analysis of spirit consumption at home, shows that white spirits, such as gin and vodka, are more appealing to today’s versatile younger drinkers. Seen as perhaps conservative and complex, dark spirits, such as whisky, are the chosen tipples of the older generation. Both light and heavy drinkers are over-represented among the over-65s.

Twenty-nine per cent of drinkers aged over 55 consume one glass of whisky a week and three per cent drink more than seven glasses a week. Perhaps suffering at the hands of the variants of other spirits like alcopops, whisky seems unable to appeal to the tastebuds of the younger generation, which sees it as a drink for Dads.

While gin is a popular mixer, it is not seen as being as versatile a mixer as vodka. A rise in the premium gin market – Plymouth and Bombay Sapphire – has not been enough to halt the decline of overall gin consumption in the UK.

Best known for its creative cinema advertising, Gordon’s Gin has, following declining sales, been given its first new look in 60 years as part of a &£15m plan to revitalise the brand. The campaign, by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has been developed to appeal specifically to 25to 35-year-olds – an area that needs obvious attention as the Spectra research shows gin drinkers to be over-represented among 45to 65-year-olds.

According to Spectra, the key to success in this competitive industry is transforming more conservative beverages into exciting mixes, thus catering for both ends of the market. With home drinking marginally surpassing trips to the pub, it is no wonder that a greater emphasis on food menus and entertainment is becoming the norm in the UK’s traditional watering holes.

It seems that with the British tradition for beer drinking and a willingness to experiment with new products, the UK alcoholic drinks industry is set for growth.

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