Supermarket and off-licence beer sales crashed by the equivalent of 85.5 million pints in last three months of 2012.

Off-trade sales of lager and ale fell 7.5% in the final quarter of the year to 3.7 million barrels, down from four million in the same period in 2011, according to figures released today by the British Beer and Pub Association. This is the lowest level of Q4 off-trade beer sales recorded by the BBPA since it started monitoring the market in 1999.

Over the same period, on-trade sales fell 4.8% year-on-year to 3.6 million barrels – making a total drop in beer sales of 138 million pints in three months.

Industry insiders have suggested the decline has been fuelled by consumers shifting to other drinks, particularly cider and spirits.

The BBPA said its figures highlighted the pressing need for a review of the duty escalator that has contributed to the tax on a pint of beer soaring by 42% since 2008.

“These figures show the government needs to stop its full-on tax assault on our vital beer and pub industry,” said BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds. “It is hugely damaging and completely unacceptable for such an important manufacturing sector.  Instead, we could be protecting and creating jobs at a time when the country most needs it.”