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.
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.