Is the Aussie bloke facing extinction?

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By Leith van Onselen

I used to be a beer drinking Aussie bloke. When I was 18 and a “poor student”, I would only drink Powers Ice or Tooheys Red. Not because they were good, but because I could by a 30-can block for around $22 (in 1996 dollars).

Gradually, as my part-time shifts increased at Target, I upgraded to VB (or “Vitamin B” as it was affectionately known), which remained my bear of choice until my mid-20s, after which I upgraded to a variety of other beers: Carlton Dry, XXXX, Tooheys Extra Dry, and Tooheys Old.

In my early-30s, my tastes changed again, when I began drinking a variety of upper market beers: Santiago (South American beer from ALDI); Bud; Millers; Cascade; Boags – pretty much whatever was on special.

Now in my mid-30s, I barely drink beer at all. Instead Gin & Tonic has become my beverage of choice, along with the odd Pimms. Being a fitness fanatic, the quantity of alcohol that I consume has also fallen considerably. Basically, I have become soft in my older age, even though I can still out-box most 20-year olds.

It seems I am not alone in my softness. Research released by Commsec shows that beer consumption in Australia has hit a 66-year low, with the apparent consumption of alcohol consumed in the form of beer falling from 4.31 litres of pure alcohol per person (aged 15 years or more) to 4.14 litres in 2011/12. Consumption of full-strength
beer fell from 3.55 litres to 3.41 litres; mid strength was steady at 0.57 litres; and low strength fell from 0.19 litres to 0.16 litres.

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The fall in the consumption of beer has been partly offset by wine consumption, which rose from 3.79 litres to 3.80 litres per person in 2011/12, with an increase in
white wine consumption offsetting falls in “other” wines (ports, sherry etc).

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Consumption of alcohol in the form of spirits fell from 2.05 litres to a 10-year low of 1.95 litres with spirits down from a record high of 1.34 litres to 1.26 litres while “ready to drink” eased from 0.71 litres to a record low of 0.68 litres.

Meanwhile, cider consumption continues to rise. The consumption of alcohol in the form of cider rose from 0.15 litres to 0.17 litres in 2011/12. Four years ago cider consumption was a third of current levels.

Overall, total apparent consumption of alcohol fell for the fifth straight year, down from 10.30 litres of pure alcohol per person to a 10-year low of 10.05 litres per person. As a standard drink consists of 12.5 mls of pure alcohol, this is equivalent to an average of 2.2 standard drinks per day per person aged 15 years and over.

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According to Commsec’s chief economist, Craig James:

These aren’t new trends. But the important thing is that the trends are continuing. Aussies don’t drink beer like they used to – that is, in the same quantities. Today it is more about quality rather than quantity. Wine is frequently the alcoholic drink of choice, with wine consumption poised to overtake beer consumption in coming years. And overall, Aussies are drinking less – for the 10th straight year alcohol consumption has fallen.

The reasons for the changes over the year are many. Random breath testing, immigration, greater variety in leisure pursuits, increases in income and wealth, diet, lifestyle – all these factors and more explain why Aussies are drinking less beer, more wine and drinking less alcohol more generally.

Reduced alcohol consumption is positive from many social standpoints. But it has implications for government coffers in terms of excise revenue. It has implications for liquor retailers, cafes, restaurants, clubs and the major supermarkets – Coles and Woolworths. Price is only part of the buying consideration; but rather it is the price/quality trade-off.

The trends don’t look like reversing any time soon. Gen Y has less interest in drinking for drinking sake despite the occasional media report to the contrary. And Gen X and Baby Boomers have become more responsible, have greater focus on health and have higher incomes enabling focus on quality over quantity.

[email protected]


Leith van Onselen

Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.


  1. Head up to Mt Panarama in a few weeks time if you want to see beer drinking bogans in the wild.

    Campers at the top of the mountain in 2013 are limited to 1x case of full strength beer per person, per day!

    Some would call that “unaustralian”

  2. Probably because the new generation of partiers prefer choices from the chemical variety or from the back counter at the local pharmacy. This was such a novelty for me in my 20’s and we had a lot of fun for a very short period but now its talked about like ‘you -DRINK- when you go out!!??” My job now is to protect my babies from this generation of ‘off their heads’ boom boom boomers.

    • If that is Czech ‘Bud’…fair enough.

      If it is US ‘Bud’, while their ads are good, their beer should go straight back into the horse it came from.

      It is interesting that the Czechs actually outdrink Aussies beer-wise. Probably something to do with the fact that their beers are really good, and about $2.00 per half litre in restaurants and pubs, and about a third that price in supermarkets.

  3. Not only is beer consumption declining but beople are drinking all sorts of sissy varieties! We should have just stuck to XXXX, VB, Toohey’s and Tooth’s! (and bring back Gold Top!)

    VB= Vitamin B??? Back in the days of ‘real’ men it was known as ‘Green Death!’

    • Just my observation young people, these days, seem to go out with the object of getting smashed. Hence the high expensive alcohol drinks (and the chemical additions) We used to go out to have a good time while drinking a few beers. The fact that we got drunk was incidental.

      • beer must put a permanent fuzzaround the memory 🙂
        what about the infamous six oclock swill. Get drunk quick – go home & fight with the wife. Now you can get drunk at your leisure and fight anyone anytime.

        The more things change ……etc

      • 🙂 Yes houseless that’s true. At the time of max beer consumption, late sixties, I was still a poor student. So my break-outs, while severe, sure weren’t every night! We had some good times! I played some of my best rugby after coming straight from the party, still in Dinner suit, to the ground! Fearless! 🙂

  4. The interesting bit is how low the figures are prior to the 1950’s – having regard to the pub on every corner style of our cities in 19th and early 20th century.

    Much of our concept of ‘larrikan’ Aussie blokes predates the 1950’s.

    Perhaps those larrikans were actually a relatively sober lot.

    Another myth bites the dust.

    At the risk of setting off the generation wars – the record grog intakes coincide with the ‘creation’ of the boomers and Gen-X.

    Could there be something called fetal generation alcohol Syndrome?

    • As a young lad in the late 50’s & early 60’s I used to spend Sunday arvo’s at Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium to younger folk).
      I took a sack & collected soft drink bottles from the punters on the terraces (I could make over 10 bob,Pocket money was 2 bob& Sat matinee at the Paddo pictures was 6 pence) .Most people drank soft drinks even though there was a Bar at the back of terraces.
      Fast forward to the begining of State of Origion & think Caxton st .yep drinking patterns have changed

    • Mark HeydonMEMBER

      Average size of Australians going back to the 50s was probably a good deal less, so the alcohol went further back then.

      • Women weren’t allowed in pubs either, which probably accounts for a good deal of the shortfall in per capita consumption in the good old days.

  5. I still drink. But it’s just such a rip off. Nearly $20 just for a six pack. So I get long necks or a case. There’s quite the incentive to stop, one, so you can hurt the government, two, so you can help to bring on a crash which will help to hurt specufestors.

    You’ve also got to factor in that most of or a lot of gen x and y will probably be working until we’re 70. So good health is a must.

  6. pfh

    Fair observation! I’d guess in those days there was much less frivolous expenditure and our over-indulgence in consumption of all types not just alcohol had not yet arrived.

    • Yes – I think that has something to do with it.

      I can’t help wondering if the arrival of TV and the shameless promotion of grog in US TV Shows also had something to do with it.

      • pfh. In my view Television is the source of many, if not most, ills!
        It’s one of my other extreme theories! 🙂

  7. or “Vitamin B” as it was affectionately known
    I think you mean “Very Bad”. 😀

    There’s always going to be multiple factors in play, but I reckon one of the biggest is simply one of cost. Even a carton of something like Toohey’s New costs $40 (give or take). If you’re going out to a pub (or worse, club) and not there in happy hour, it’s even worse. We dropped into the Belgian Bier Cafe in Brisbane last Friday and at $11/pint, left pretty sharpish (first time I’d ever had to pay for my own drinks there – didn’t do that for long 🙂 ).

    I’ve also noticed cider has become more popular over the last few years, and I’m willing to bet it’s because of the influx of Irish and UK immigrants in the same timeframe.

    Interestingly, we keep getting bombarded with messages that “alcohol-fuelled violence” is always on the rise – does anyone have any historical stats on that to see what it’s like today compared with back when we were all pissants ?

    • I just spent a few months in the Czech Republic.

      The price of a beer there is about $2.00 in a restaurant/pub.

      The quality is good. (Pilsen makes, er, pilsener for example).

      Beer consumption there is higher per capita than here.

      I really did not notice much in the way of antisocial drunken behaviour. There was plenty of raucous singing at night, and quite a few obvious drunks hanging around, but not the violent happenings that feature here.

      The alcohol limit for drivers was zero.

      It was an interesting comparison for me to see the difference in beer cultures.

      • This tends to be true across Europe in general (UK excluded).

        When I was living in Switzerland I was a bit surprised the first time I saw “children” [0] jumping onto trams with a six pack of beer and cracking one open, but I also never saw any real drunken violence problems (except when the UEFA cup was on and – surprise, surprise – it was the visiting UK yobbos responsible for all of it).

        In my experience drinking around the world, bingeing and drunken violence seem to be almost entirely an Anglo problem.

        [0] 16 year olds. Drinking age for beer and wine in Switzerland is 16. 18 for Spirits.

      • Mining BoganMEMBER

        Word. Noticed the same when I cycled through Central Europe.

        I recently wandered around Cuba(bet that just made GSM’s head explode). Rum was cheap and plentiful yet I didn’t notice drunks like you do around here when they’re on that Bundy rubbish.

        Or are they just at different watering holes?

      • Aged 14 I went on an exchange trip to stay with a French family near Paris. At all family meals (lunch and dinner) there was red wine, neat for the adults and mixed with water for the older children (age 13 plus).

      • That concurs with what an old schoomate of mine living in Germany told me when he stopped over here during an Australia trip. The kind of binge drinking and violence that he saw on the news about Northbridge was new to him. It doesn’t seem to happen in Germany and in the other parts of Europe he’d lived in – bar the UK.

    • smithy,

      As I understand we are saturated in cider now because its more profitable for the producers; something to do with tax levied on different alcohol types

      • That’s right, cider has taken off as the tax on alco-pops started to come in. The sweet fruity taste appeals to the younger crowd.

        The impact of the AUD must also come into play, the availability of ‘Irish’ cider and that pricy Swedish stuff has made the cider section of the local bottl’o much larger than it used to be.

        As a mid 20’s-ist myself, I have been changing my drinking habits towards more refined beers and spirits – local microbreweries and imported beers.

        With the rise of the AUD over the last couple of years, even places like Dan Murphys has a fairly wide range of international beers. They are still expensive relative to local swill, but it’s more about the taste than the effect.

        I’d also be interested in what is not getting recorded here, at an anecdotal level, I hear homebrew is having a minor resurgence of late.

  8. I wonder how much home brew is being drunk, or whether like myself people stop making it after they get a real job and don’t have enough time.

    • Going back to uni full time a couple of years ago instigated a move to all grain home brewing (for more hobby reasons than economic, although 95c a long neck is hard to pass up)

      Now Ive been in the workforce again for a couple of years, its true, there has been a drop in the brewing, but it still remains a great hobby (if you have a spare 6 hours!) – recently fired up some ‘can and kilo’s’ for summer – can’t wait!

  9. It’s too expensive for young people to drink. So they save up and binge hard or take drugs.

    Do the math. It costs about $30 for a night stoned or on speed, 60 for some party pills, or more than 150 to get drunk once your liver is accustomed.

    High alcohol taxes don’t stop people getting intoxicated. They are just driven to cheaper alternatives.

  10. You are seriously in soft cock territory if you drink g and t and pimms, wouldn’t own up to that. But I can see how you got there as its a slippery slope going from decent main stay beers like vb /carlton to premium, then to foreign beers and some even drink that boutique craft rubbish. When I travelled to Auckland a few years ago for the rugby world cup it was nigh impossible to buy a normal drinking beer. Time for males to stop pretending we are refined, metrosexualism is very last decade and stemmed from feminist dominated emasculated males anyway.
    Or to put it more succinctly, harden up princesses.

    • That’s harsh. Times have changed, men are allowed to be whatever they want to be these days. If he wants to drink Pimms, good on him

      • princesses, being a man is about understanding what you need not what you think you need because of trendy marketing and female opinion. Put down your manbags and liberate yourselves – our grandads actually had it pretty good.

  11. If the trend in the States carries over here, i would imagine marijuana will be decriminalized in a decade or two.

    I still prefer a good beer buzz though.