States Drinking the Most Beer

June 5, 2016 by Sam Stebbins

Nationwide, beer consumption per capita has declined by roughly 4% since 2011. Still, beer is big business in the United States.The beer industry generates $252.6 billion in economic output each year, or about 1.5% of total gross domestic product, according to a study conducted on behalf of the Beer Institute, an organization representing the interests of beer makers and distributors nationwide.

While drinking-age Americans consume an average of about 27 gallons of beer annually, beer drinking is far more common in certain parts of the country. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the volume of beer sold per drinking-age adult in each state to determine the nine states where residents are drinking the most beer. Beer Marketer’s Insights, a company that publishes industry information and news, provided the data. New Hampshire leads the nation in beer consumption with 43 gallons of beer purchased per resident 21 and older.

Beer consumption varies from state to state for a variety of reasons. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Eric Shepard, vice president of Beer Marketer’s Insights, explained that while it is hard to pinpoint a single reason, often “it’s a reflection of culture from state to state.” Shepard singled out states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin as places where beer drinking is simply a part of the culture.

Click here to see the states drinking the most beer. 

Geography also plays a role in beer consumption rates. “Generally, rural, Western states tend to have larger beer consumption per capita than other parts of the country,” Shepard said. Indeed, eight of the nine states drinking the most beer are more rural than the U.S. as a whole. In addition, more than half of the states on the list are situated west of the Mississippi River.

Despite its prevalence in certain areas, per capita beer consumption in the United States has declined in recent years. “There has been a switch to spirits, and to a lesser extent, wine,” Shepard explained. Still, per capita beer consumption in nine states has actually increased in the last five years, including in several of the states drinking the most beer. In Vermont, the state with the fifth highest per capita beer consumption, beer consumption has gone up by 2.9% since 2011, the largest increase in the country.

High per capita beer consumption does not necessarily mean unhealthy or reckless behavior. However, with the exception of Nevada, all of the states where residents are drinking the most beer, also report higher than average excessive drinking rates. Similarly, all nine states have higher than average alcohol-related car accidents death rates. In North Dakota, 25% of all adults drink excessively and about 47% of driving deaths involve alcohol, each the highest such rate in the country and far higher than the corresponding 18% and 31% national rates. North Dakotans of legal age drink an average of 40 gallons of beer annually, more than in every other state except New Hampshire.

In order to determine the nine states drinking the most beer, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed total gallons of beer distributed in each state per resident 21 years and older in 2015 data provided by Beer Marketer’s Insights. We also reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on excessive drinking and alcohol-related death figures and rates. Beer excise tax rates as well as sales tax rates came from the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy research organization. The share of the population living in rural localities came came from the U.S. Census Bureau, and alcohol impaired driving deaths came from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

These are the states drinking the most beer.

9. Nebraska
> Annual per capita consumption:
34.0 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: -1.2%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 21.4% (5th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 35.4% (11th highest)

Each Nebraska resident 21 and older consumes 34 gallons of beer a year on average, roughly 7 gallons more per person than the national rate. Not surprisingly, 21.4% of the state’s adults report drinking to excess regularly, the fifth highest share in the nation. Slightly more than 35% of driving deaths in the state are alcohol related, a higher proportion than in all but 10 other states. Nebraska’s alcohol laws are relatively relaxed. Unlike the majority of states, liquor is sold alongside beer and wine in grocery stores. Spirits of all kinds can be purchased on any day of the week.

8. Maine
> Annual per capita consumption:
34.1 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: 1.8%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 19% (15th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 35.4% (11th highest)

Half of the six states in New England rank among the nine states drinking the most beer. Maine, a state that sells about 34.1 gallons of beer per resident aged 21 and older, is one of them. Nationwide, small batch craft beer has been surging in popularity in recent years. Craft beer likely contributes heavily to Maine’s consumption rate as there are roughly 59 craft breweries in the state, the fifth most per capita of any state. Nationwide, beer sales have dropped 3.9% per capita since 2011. Maine, however, is bucking the trend. Per capita beer sales have increased by 1.8% in the state over the last five years.

7. Nevada
> Annual per capita consumption:
34.2 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: -5.8%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 17.6% (24th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 32.6% (23rd lowest)

Nevada’s economy — particularly that of Las Vegas, its largest city — is disproportionately dependent on entertainment and accommodation. The area’s high alcohol consumption is likely at least partially the result of the many tourists flocking to Sin City. The city has relatively lax alcohol laws. On the whole, carrying beer or other alcohol in public is permitted. The state sell more than 34 gallons of beer a year for every drinking-age resident. While this is the seventh highest consumption rate in the country, it used to be even higher. The consumption rate fell by 5.8% between 2011 and 2015 in the state, compared to a national decline in per capita beer consumption of 3.9%.

6. Wisconsin
> Annual per capita consumption:
35.7 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: -1.4%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 23.3% (2nd highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 37.8% (7th highest)

More beer purchased per capita does not always accompany a high prevalence of excessive drinking. In Wisconsin, however, it does. The state consumes 35.7 gallons of beer annually per resident 21 years and older, tied for the fifth highest consumption rate. Meanwhile, 23.3% of adults report excessive drinking, the second highest share in the country. Beer is heavily tied to Wisconsin’s culture and history. Beer giants MillerCoors and Pabst have had brewery locations in the city for over a century and a half. Given the high consumption rate, perhaps it is not surprising that beer is taxed at a rate of 6 cents per gallon, the third lowest beer tax of any state in the country.

5. Vermont
> Annual per capita consumption:
35.7 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: 2.9%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 20.6% (10th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 36.1% (9th highest)

Beer consumption in the vast majority of states declined over the last five years, and nationally, consumption fell by nearly 4%. In Vermont, however, people are drinking more than before. Beer consumption per capita rose by 2.9% over the last five years, a larger increase than in any other state. Specialty and craft beers have become increasingly popular lately, and the Green Mountain State has more craft breweries per capita than any state in the country. As is the case in most states with high beer consumption per capita, the share of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Vermont is relatively high. More than 36% of driving deaths in the state are related to alcohol consumption, the 10th highest rate in the country.

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4. South Dakota
> Annual per capita consumption:

38.7 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: 2.7%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 18.3% (21st highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 35.3% (14th highest)

While per capita beer consumption declined nationally by 3.9%, South Dakotans drink 2.7% more than they did five years ago, at 38.7 gallons of beer, purchased per drinking-age resident. Beer sales in the state are relatively unrestricted, which may contribute to South Dakota’s relatively high consumption. Unlike the majority of states, liquor is sold alongside beer and wine in grocery stores. Spirits of all kinds can be purchased on any day of the week. Shepard explained that South Dakota, like several other Midwest states, has traditionally had a heavy beer drinking culture, which may explain the state’s beer drinking rate.

3. Montana
> Annual per capita consumption:
39.7 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: -1.7%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 20.8% (9th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 47.1% (2nd highest)

While high per capita beer consumption does not necessarily mean unsafe behavior, in Montana, it has likely contributed to some of the negative outcomes associated with alcohol. Of all roadway fatalities in the state, 47.1% involve alcohol, the second highest percentage in the country. The high share of driving deaths attributable to alcohol accompanies a high rate of fatal conditions caused by alcohol. There are 16.8 alcohol-related deaths for every 100,000 Montana residents, the second highest rate in the country and more than double the national rate of 8.2 deaths per 100,000 residents.

2. North Dakota
> Annual per capita consumption:
40.0 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: -4.5%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 25% (the highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 47.3% (the highest)

One in every four adults in North Dakota drinks excessively, the largest share of any state in the country. Beer may be the drink of choice for many in the state, as adults of age consume an average of 40 gallons a year, the second highest rate in the country. However, as is the case across the country, beer consumption in North Dakota is trending down. Beer consumption per capita in the state is 4.5% lower than it was five years earlier. However, this decline is actually only a recent trend. According to Shepard, beer consumption had risen meaningfully in the state. This was due largely to the oil boom that caused the state economy to rapidly expand, leading to an influx of young men with disposable income. In 2012, the state consumed 45.7 gallons of beer per drinking age adult, the most of any state in the past five years. As the state’s oil boom has flagged, consumption has also declined.

1. New Hampshire
> Annual per capita consumption:
43.0 gallons of beer
> Pct. change beer consumption 2011-2015: 0.2%
> Adults reporting binge drinking: 18.9% (17th highest)
> Pct. driving deaths involving alcohol: 32.9% (23rd highest)

New Hampshire levies a 30 cent per gallon tax on beer sold in the state. While this is a lower tax rate than in many other states, it is far from the lowest in the country. Still, New Hampshire is one of only four states with no sales tax. As a result, per capita beer consumption in the state may be skewed, as residents of neighboring states — Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont — may travel to New Hampshire to save on their beer purchases. Perhaps another indication of the potentially skewed figures is the relatively low alcohol-related driving fatalities. Of all driving deaths in New Hampshire, 32.9% are attributable to alcohol, the second smallest share of any state drinking the most beer.