Consumption of High-Proof Alcoholic Beverages Falls across America for Seventh Straight Year

Article excerpt

In 1987, for the seventh straight year, Americans are cutting down on their consumption of high-proof alcoholic beverages - not exactly turning us into a nation of teetotalers, but definitely reflecting a downtrend in drinking.

- A national crackdown on drunk driving is underway, with all segments of our society participating.

- A higher federal excise tax on distilled spirits has undoubtedly contributed to the trend. This tax went into effect in October, 1985.

- Overall, you and I have become increasingly aware of health and fitness issues and this too has been translated into a desire for lower-proof alcoholic beverages.

Consumption of gin, scotch, vodka, bourbon and other distilled spirits is on the decline, according to the 1987 edition of Jobson's Liquor Handbook (the industry bible), while sales of lower-proof beverages are increasing. Reflecting the change in U.S. tastes are higher sales of such beverages as prepared cocktails that are primarily consumed in the home, and of brandies, especially cognac.

The handbook reports consumption of distilled spirits declined 4.2 percent last year, the largest annual decline since consumption peaked at 166 million cases in 1979. Total distilled spirits consumption was 147.4 million cases in 1986, a drop of 6.5 million.

The projection by the trade publication is that consumption of distilled spirits will drop another 2 percent in 1987.

Despite the gloom that pervades the distilled spirits industry, cognac sales tripled in the last five years, and projections indicate by the end of the decade, sales will reach 1.3 billion - four times what cognac sales were in 1980.

Why have cognac's fortunes run counter to the slumping distilled spirits market? Jean-Marie Beulque of the Bureau of National Inter-professional du Cognac explains:

``There is a growing preference for lighter grape-based beverages as opposed to more traditional spirits, largely due to heavy anti-alcohol campaigns in the U.S. Furthermore, cognac, which is made from grapes, has benefitted greatly from Americans' growing sophistication about wine. Having cognac after a meal is the logical next step to drinking wine with a meal.''

Lower-proof beverages also are popular because Americans ``appreciate the quality of low-proof beverages and regard them as status symbols,'' Beulque says. …