Chrissie Giles in Mosaic:
Everyone in alcohol research knows the graph. It plots the change in annual consumption of alcohol in the UK, calculated in litres of pure alcohol per person. (None of us drinks pure alcohol, thankfully; one litre of pure alcohol is equivalent to 35 pints of strong beer.) In 1950, Brits drank an average of 3.9 litres per person. Look to the right and at first the line barely rises. Then, in 1960, it begins to creep upward. The climb becomes more steady during the 1970s. The upward trajectory ends in 1980, but that turns out to be temporary. By the late 1990s consumption is rising rapidly again. Come Peak Booze, in 2004, we were drinking 9.5 litres of alcohol per person – the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine.
It’s impossible to untangle the forces behind the graph’s every rise and fall, but I’ve talked to researchers who have studied our relationship with alcohol. They told me how everything from recessions to marketing to sexism has shaped the way Brits drink. This is the story of that research, and of what it tells us about the ascent to Peak Booze. In many ways it is not a story about how much we drink, but about who drinks what, and where. It begins well over half a century ago, in the pub.