States That Drink the Most Beer

Total consumption of beer in the U.S. has fallen for the third straight year, according to a report published by the Beer Institute, a beer lobbying group. Since 2008, total beer consumption has fallen by as much as 11% in some states. Americans still, however, consume a massive amount of the foamy beverage — an estimated 6.3 billion gallons in 2011. Nationwide, 28.3 gallons of beer a year were consumed for every American of legal age.

See the Ten States

Some states consume far less than others. In Connecticut, only 21.8 gallons were purchased per resident in 2011. In Utah, it was just 19.2 gallons. In three states, however, the Beer Institute estimates that more than 40 gallons of beer were consumed per person. Based on Beer Institute’s report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states that drink the most beer.

In an interview with Beer Institute Chief Economist Lester Jones, he discussed the factors that cause beer consumption per capita to be higher in some states. Jones pointed out that the numbers can be misleading. The report measures the total amount of beer sold in the state. It does not, however, indicate how much is actually consumed by residents of that state.

So-called “blue laws,” are state laws that prohibit the sale of liquor on Sundays. Other state regulation does not allow beer sale gas stations, convenience stores, or grocery stores. These laws likely encourage thirsty residents to drive across state lines to purchase beer.

In fact, many of the states on 24/7 Wall St.’s have few of those restrictive laws. In eight of the 10 states, beer is legally sold at gas stations and convenience stores. The sale of beer on Sundays is also legal in all 10 states.

According to Jones, there is an even more important reason for residents to seek out some states to purchase beer: taxes. New Hampshire has the highest per capita alcohol consumption because “anyone who is driving through or lives on the border of New Hampshire will probably opt for the 5% or 6% savings, and just go into the state to buy their alcohol there,” he said. As a result, it is common for New Hampshire liquor stores to be visited by residents of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.

Despite the other factors that can influence consumption, there appears to be a strong relationship between the amount of beer purchased in a state and the prevalence of drinking — both casual and heavy — within the state. Based on a Centers for Disease Control survey for 2011, all 10 states had a larger-than-average proportion of residents who reported binge drinking. Even in states like New Hampshire, where outside purchasers account for a portion of total beer sales, 65.8% of those surveyed reported having at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days, the second-highest percentage in the country.

In North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana, high consumption appears to be driven by the type of jobs in the state. Relative to the rest of the country, these states have booming energy, farming and construction industries.  According to Jones, these jobs are traditionally filled by men aged 25 to 54, which is the core beer-drinking demographics.

The Beer Institute calculated the total amount of beer sold in the state each year, and, dividing it by the total population over the age of 21, estimated the average consumption per person. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the highest consumption in gallons per capita in 2011. In addition, the Beer Institute provided data on alcohol taxes, rules and regulations related to the consumption of beer and liquor, and changes in consumption dating back to 2003. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed heavy-drinking and binge-drinking data provided for 2011 by the CDC.

10. Delaware
> Per capita consumption: 34.3 gallons
> Total consumption: 22,592,366 gallons (7th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -2.3% (8th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 20.3% (12th highest)
> Population density: 465.5/sq. mile (6th highest)

While most of the states that consume a great deal of alcohol are large and sparsely populated, Delaware is the second-smallest state by area, and one of the most densely populated in the country. As of 2003, the state legalized the sale of beer on Sunday. While beer consumption declined 7.5% nationwide between 2003 and 2011, it fell by just 2.3% in Delaware. Delaware is among the top 15 in the country both for heavy drinking and binge drinking. The state also has no sales tax, and an excise tax on alcohol of just $0.16 per gallon.

9.  Nebraska
> Per capita consumption: 34.6 gallons (tied-8th)
> Total consumption: 44,711,021 gallons (15th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -5.7% (20th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 22.7% (5th highest)
> Population density: 24.0/sq. mile (8th lowest)

Nebraskans are among the heaviest drinkers in the United States. Nearly 23% of Nebraska adults were binge drinkers while another 7.5% were heavy drinkers. Overall, 61.8% of all adults stated they had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days, one of the highest percentages in the country. Unlike many other states with high per-capita consumption, Nebraska has one of the higher tax rates in the nation, at $9.61 per 31-gallon barrel. In March, a New York Times article noted that the small town of Whiteclay, Neb., sold 4.9 million cans of beer a year to residents of Pine Ridge, a Lakota reservation across state lines in South Dakota.

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8. Texas
> Per capita consumption: 34.6 gallons (tied-8th)
> Total consumption: 604,956,568 gallons (2nd highest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -9.4% (15th lowest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 18.9% (19th highest)
> Population density: 98.3/sq. mile (25th lowest)

Despite being one of the nation’s largest per-capita consumers of beer, just 54.3% of adult Texans surveyed last year had consumed alcohol in the preceding 30 days — well below the national average of 57.1%. Binge and heavy drinkers only accounted for 18.9% and 7%, respectively, of Texas’ adult population. These figures are only slightly higher than the comparable national rates of 18.3% and 6.6%. One possible reason Texas sells so much beer is tax-related. As of July 1, 2011, sales of beer were taxed $6.01 per 31-gallon barrel for drinks with 4% alcohol content or less, and $6.14 otherwise. This was lower than all four states surrounding Texas, particularly Oklahoma, where beer exceeding 3.2% alcohol content was taxed at $12.49 per 31-gallon barrel, and New Mexico, which charged $12.71 per 31-gallon barrel.

7. Vermont
> Per capita consumption: 34.7 gallons
> Total consumption: 16,206,397 gallons (3rd lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: 7.1% (the highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 18.5% (24th highest)
> Population density: 68.0/sq. mile (21st lowest)

While alcohol consumption declined in the vast majority of states between 2003 and 2011, alcohol consumption actually increased in Vermont by over 7% — more than any other state in the country. Meanwhile, shipments between 2003 and 2011 grew nearly 13%, the second-fastest growth rate in the country and significantly higher than the half-percent growth of shipments across the country. Although the state’s beer consumption per capita is higher than most, the sale of beer is also more restricted than most.

6. Wisconsin
> Per capita consumption:  36.2 gallons
> Total consumption: 149,651,260 gallons (12th highest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -6.9% (24th lowest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 24.3% (the highest)
> Population density: 105.5/sq. mile (24th highest)

Wisconsin is home to the Miller Brewing Company and a host of microbreweries — the state has 112 breweries, more than all states except four. But along with the breweries, there are a fair share of imbibers. Nearly one in every four Wisconsinites is considered a binge drinker, while nearly one in 10 residents is considered a heavy drinker. Both of those figures are higher than in any other state in the U.S. In 2011, more than 67% of the state’s population had a drink in any given month, the highest rate in the country.

5. Nevada
> Per capita consumption:  36.5 gallons
> Total consumption: 70,951,684 gallons (21st lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -17.2% (the lowest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 18.6% (22nd highest)
> Population density: 24.8/sq. mile (9th lowest)

In 2003, 44.1 gallons of beer were consumed per person in Nevada, at the time more than any state except North Dakota. Since then, beer consumption has decreased by 17.2% — more than any other state in the country. The state is not especially strict on beer sales, allowing for Sunday sales, as well as for sales in grocery and convenience stores. A significant amount of beer consumption is likely driven by Las Vegas’ tourism industry, a point highlighted by Beer Institute’s Jones. As of July, Las Vegas had over 23 million visitors this year, while the state’s total population was just over 2.7 million.

4. South Dakota
> Per capita consumption: 38.0 gallons
> Total consumption: 22,032,413 gallons (6th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -1.8% (5th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 22.1% (6th highest)
> Population density: 10.9/sq. mile (5th lowest)

The 38 gallons of beer consumed per capita in 2011 is down from 38.8 gallons in both 2010 and 2009 and 39.3 gallons in 2008. Although per-capita consumption actually dropped 1.8% between 2003 and 2011, South Dakota is now fourth in consumption, up from seventh in 2003. More than 22% of the state’s population are considered to be binge drinkers, the sixth-highest rate in the country. However, the number of heavy drinkers is significantly lower, at just under 6%, below the 6.6% national average.

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3. Montana
> Per capita consumption: 40.6 gallons
> Total consumption: 29,640,123 gallons (8th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -5.1% (18th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 20.8% (9th highest)
> Population density: 6.9/sq. mile (3rd lowest)

Montana is just one of three states where the average adult drinks more than 40 gallons of beer a year. Montana has very few restrictions on selling beer, allowing Sunday sales as well as permitting grocery and convenience store to sell beer. In 2010, 20.8% of adults in Montana were binge drinkers, one of the highest proportions in the country. However, consumption overall has declined by 2.2 gallons per capita since 2003.  As of last July, Montana charged $4.30 in taxes for a 31-gallon barrel of beer, lower than most of its neighbors but far more than the 59 cents Wyoming charged. Unlike Wyoming, however, Montana has no sales tax.

2. North Dakota
> Per capita consumption: 42.2 gallons
> Total consumption: 20,711,472 gallons (5th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -4.5% (15th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 23.8% (2nd highest)
> Population density: 9.9/sq. mile (4th lowest)

In 2003, North Dakota consumed more beer than any other state in the country, with the average resident guzzling more than 44 gallons per year. But beer-drinking declined 4.5% between 2003 and 2012, with the average North Dakotan now drinking just over 42 gallons. Jones of the Beer Institute says that the decline in consumption could have been higher, except that the state’s recent oil boom has attracted many young males, who statistically drink more beer than the population as a whole. Nearly 24% of the state’s population are binge drinkers, which is the second-highest rate of all states. However, the 6.5% of the population considered heavy drinkers is slightly less than the national average.

1.New Hampshire
> Per capita consumption: 43.0 gallons
> Total consumption: 41,994,894 gallons (13th lowest)
> Pct. change in consumption ’03-’11: -1.8% (6th highest)
> Pct. binge drinkers: 18.7% (21st highest)
> Population density: 147.2/sq. mile (21st highest)

While beer consumption in New Hampshire fell 1.8% between 2003 and 2011, it declined 7.5% nationally. Nearly 66% of people had a drink in the past 30 days through 2011, second only to Wisconsin. Although the state has the highest per-capita consumption, only 18.7% of the population are considered binge drinkers, just slightly over the 18.3% national rate. New Hampshire has a tax of 30 cents per gallon of beer. In neighboring Vermont, it runs as high as 55 cents a gallon if alcohol content is more than 6%. Jones believes that New Hampshire has the highest beer consumption partly because Vermont and Massachusetts residents come there to purchase alcohol.

-Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E.M. Hess and Samuel Weigley

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