DOVER, N.H. — Bars and retailers have sold more beer per capita in New Hampshire during the last year than in any other state in the country, according to new data from a brewery trade group.
The Beer Institute, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., released new data recently that indicates 43 gallons of beer were sold in New Hampshire in 2011 for every one person of legal drinking age. That figure eclipsed the nationwide average of 28.3 gallons per person.
Furthermore, the data shows New Hampshire has had the highest per capita sales rate in the nation four out of the last five years, frequently beating out contenders North Dakota and Montana.
However, analysts caution the sales data doesn’t necessarily indicate New Hampshire residents are the hardiest beer drinkers in the country; rather, it’s probably a sign the state’s relatively low tax on beer continues to entice tipplers from out-of-state to stock up in New Hampshire.
Lester Jones, chief economist for the Beer Institute, said New Hampshire typically ranks in the top five states when the group compiles its annual per capita sales ranking.
However, Jones said the per capita consumption rate in New Hampshire is likely inflated because of the effects of tourism and the state’s tax structure.
“When you think about it, New Hampshire traditionally has had a very high tourist business over multiple seasons,” said Bill Herlicka, founder of White Birch Brewing in Hooksett, N.H., which has been in business for three years. “We’re bordered by Massachusetts, which is again a more populous state by far than us. Because of the tax differences between states, and this gets you into Maine and Vermont as well, it’s cheaper over here.
“If you were to sort of draw concentric circles around New Hampshire, what you’d see is that most of the high-volume sales tend to be in the border towns, where there’s more people in those towns, like Portsmouth to Nashua. Throw in Keene and Lebanon, those are pretty good-sized population centers, and they also happen to border another state.”
Jones said it’s likely the per capita sales figures in rural states, such as Vermont and North Dakota, more accurately depict the amount of beer consumed per person than the data regarding New Hampshire.
North Dakota logged a rate of 42.2 gallons per capita in 2011.
“There’s not many people driving around saying, ‘Let’s go get a beer in North Dakota,'” he said.
Overall, the recent economic recession has hurt nationwide beer sales, according to the data collected by the Beer Institute.
In 2011, a total of 6,304,893,677 gallons of beer were sold in the country. That figure stood at 6,270,587,744 gallons in 2003.
Jones said part of the change is related to the country’s shifting demographics. The average age of the population is increasing, and in general, older Americans tend to have a stronger preference for wine and spirits, Jones said.
There’s also been a shift within the industry from mainstream lagers to specialty craft beers, which tend to be more filling and have a higher alcohol content.
Jones said it’s also clear the recession dipped into alcohol sales. He said the downturn disproportionately affected people in construction and manufacturing — blue collar jobs in which employees are historically more apt to purchase beer after work than wine or spirits.
Industry analysts believe an explosion in the variety of beverages available at retail stores, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, has also affected beer sales.
“Walk into any convenience store today and the choices are mind-boggling on what a person could choose to put into their stomach,” Jones said, “so that’s another variable there.”
New Hampshire charges taxes on beer sold by wholesale distributors and beverage manufacturers equal to 30 cents for every gallon.
New Hampshire collected $13.2 million in taxes on beer during the previous year, falling in line with trends in the last decade, in which beer tax and permit revenues have been relatively flat, according to the state’s 2011 report on alcohol sales.
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