New figures released by the Bureau of Statistics show that Australians consumed 184 million litres of pure alcohol in 2011-12, which is equivalent to ten litres per adult.

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A massive 1.8 billion litres of beer was consumed, which provided the nation with 76 million litres of pure alcohol. But despite its popularity the figures also show that beer consumption is falling while wine consumption is gaining ground.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday released a set of figures on Australian alcohol consumption trends. The estimates are based on the amount of alcohol available for consumption using excise, import and sales figures.

In the 2011-12 financial year, beer was the most popular alcoholic drink in Australia. 1.8 billion litres were consumed by volume of fluid, which dwarfs the 545 million litres of wine consumed.

The chart above shows consumption levels based on pure alcohol content. Given the low alcohol content of beer relative to wine and spirits, the fairest comparison uses pure alcohol figures. Beer provided 41% of pure alcohol consumed, which is equivalent to 75.6 million litres. 69.3 million litres of wine was consumed, which provided 38% of the pure alcohol consumed by Australians.

The chart above shows the volume of pure alcohol consumed per adult for each decade from the 1960s to present. For the 2010s decade, data is only available up to the 2011-12 financial year.

We can see that since 1960, beer has generally been a far more popular tipple than wine or spirits, even when measuring by pure alcohol levels.

However, a clear trend has developed. Beer has gradually reduced in popularity from its peak of 8.75 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person during the 1970s to less than half that level during the current decade. Wine, meanwhile, is on an upward trajectory; almost trebling to 3.8 litres per person over a similar timeframe.

Based on current trends, it appears that wine will overtake beer as the most popular method of consuming alcohol at some point during this decade.

Spirits and pre-mixed drinks maintained fairly steady consumption levels from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, during the 2000s these drinks increased significantly in popularity, peaking in 2007-08 at 2.3 litres of pure alcohol consumed per Australian adult.

Consumption of beer in Australia has been on a downward trend over the past decade, which is a continuation of the trend seen since the 1960s. Overall consumption has dropped by about 20 litres per adult per year to 97 litres, which is equivalent to 4.1 litres of pure alcohol.

Full strength beer is classified as having more than 3.5% alcohol content and has dropped from 89 litres consumed per adult per year to 74 litres.  Low strength beer has dropped in popularity at an even faster rate, more than halving to a mere 6.2 litres per adult. However, mid strength beer has taken up some of the slack and is the only category to have increased in popularity during the timeframe, having increased 25% by volume.

White wine was consistently more popular than red wine during the decade to 2011-12. Both forms of wine have increased in popularity, although red wine has slightly outpaced white wine during the period. Red wine increased by 11% whereas white wine increased by 7%.

Overall, wine consumption has increased from about 26 litres per adult per year to 30 litres during the period. This is equivalent to 3.8 litres of pure alcohol consumed and represents a 15% rise over the decade.

John Elliott is a freelance data-driven writer originally from Scotland but now based in Brisbane.

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