Lies, damn lies and beer statistics

Are aspirational drinkers turning to wine and bringing about the demise of the pub-going beer drinker? Ex-landlord and now full-time brewer Dave Bailey of Hardknott thinks so. In his blog post yesterday, he'd even knocked up a graph to illustrate the demise.

I find that the problem with statistics, having spent most of my professional life working with them, is you can invariably find some that fit your precise world view. So, I believe that beer volume in the on-trade is in decline simply because beer drinkers now drink less beer less often. And I've got a graph to prove it:

Source: derived from 'Statistics on Alcohol, England 2010', NHS

According to these figures the consumption of other alcohol types, either at home or outside of it, hasn't risen significantly in the ten-year period during which on-trade beer consumption has fallen.

This doesn't mean I think Dave's argument is flawed or his figures are wrong. It's just that we're differently right.


  1. That is very interesting. The BBPA figures, which are derived from HMRC figures and so from actual declared sales, strongly suggest overall consumption of wine has increased.

    I wonder which is correct.

    I guess that NHS have conducted surveys which ask a cross section of the population. Was that cross section a fair cross section of society? Perhaps the cross section were willing participants. Being a willing participant means there is a bias.

    I draw a distinction between statistics which are "representative" samples and hard facts that are all inclusive and holistic. HMRC are fairly good at noting all the legally sold alcohol in the country. I'm not convinced that the NHS is.

    However, your suggestion that beer drinkers are just drinking less beer is an interesting one.

    Are there really such things as beer drinkers, rather than just drinkers? The reasons why people choose the drink they do is influenced by many factors I'd suggest. We are probably both right.

  2. Yep, the NHS figures derive from a representative sample survey.

    And indeed, if I wanted to argue for a rise in wine consumption I'd use HMRC figures that show a sustained rise in wine consumption based on alcohol clearance trends:

    More wine being drank, less beer being drank... there's plenty of stats to show the argument every which way. But assuming a correlation between the two? That way madness lies...

  3. Well, for a start the pair of you have chosen different periods. If we want to consider a long-term trend then we'll be looking at a longer series. If we decide in advance that the only important bit is from '01 to '08 then we'll see wine flat.

    What was the question?

    It seems rather (from the alcohol clearance stuff) that the 30 year trend is wine up, beer steady. Survey data has to be iffy, probably reflecting attitudes to alcohol as much as actual consumption.

    Of course there's been a bit of a recent tail off for the beer. I blame the smoking ban / camra / global warming / etc.

  4. @Stringers - what was the question? Well, that's the point of me being a tinker with this one. It's easy to lose track of the original question when different statistics get quoted. Indeed, it's easy to change tracks completely.

  5. But we didn't lose track. Mr Hardknott gave us 1989-2007. You whipped out a red herring (2001-2008). It's in the nature of this kind of thing that given a series suggesting a trend there will be shorter series that look like no trend, contrary trends or a view of the Cuillins. OK, maybe not the last one.

  6. The HMRC figures don't differentiate between on- and off-trade; the NHS figures only include on-trade from 2001.

    If you take the off-trade figures for 1992-2008 (the closest matching date range) it shows that aveage beer consumption at home has increased by 17% and wine by 60%. Now, that could be beer drinkers swapping to wine. It could be wine drinkers drinking more wine as a result of supermarket availability/discounting and/or increased affluence / aspiration.

    What I'm trying to say is thst it's easy to find a set of figures that promote any particular viewpoint. And counter someone's viewpoint with contrary data that's not necessarily comparative. Which doesn't stop politicians, the media and anyonme else with an agenda from using them, quoting them and not stopping to look at what't actually being claimed.

  7. I love Stats!

    My favourite quote is "Statistics are like a bikini, what they show can be suggestive but what they conceal is vital"

    Don't know who said it originally.

    Matthew Clark