Beer has fallen out of favour with younger drinkers, but independent brewers remain popular

Beer is facing up to an uncertain future, as just three in 10 consumers aged 18-24 report they ever drink it, according to a new survey by YouGov.

The survey, commissioned by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) for its 2024 Craft Beer Report, shows how younger drinkers are eschewing beer in favour of wine and spirits.

Of the 2,000 consumers surveyed by YouGov, almost half (49%) said they ever drank beer, but this figure dropped down to 30% in the 18-24 age cohort.

Younger drinkers – the data showed – prefer spirits, wine and even cider, with 49%, 44% and 40% of respondents stating they consumed these drinks respectively. 

“A dark cloud looms over UK brewing,” said Andy Slee, SIBA’s chief executive. “Only 30% of 18 to 24-year-olds claim to ever drink beer, with only a third of those doing so once a week.”

He added: “More creative brains than mine are best deployed on making our national drink more appealing to younger drinkers, and expect this to become more of a discussion in the years ahead.”

Other conclusions drawn from the SIBA report paint a more positive picture for small and independent brewers, however.

Over 55% of beer consumers responded they now drank “local craft beer”, an increase on the 47% who reported doing so in its 2023 survey.

This put local craft beer on an even keel with “global lager”, also consumed by 55% of beer drinkers.

Furthermore, SIBA members reported production volumes up by 14% over the last year, showing how “demand for local, independently brewed beer in the UK” remained strong, Slee said.

He added: “The short-term issue for small independent breweries isn‘t demand; it’s profitability, rising costs and financial pressures such as lingering Covid debt.”

Despite these pressures, and a number of high-profile brewing casualties in the UK in the last 12 months, the number of independent brewers in the UK is just 1% lower than it was a year ago, according to SIBA.

Citing the British Beer & Pub Association’s ‘Beer Barometer’, the report revealed off-trade beer sales were down by 2.8% in 2023, and remained 0.3% behind pre-pandemic levels.

This, report author Caroline Nodder noted, could indicate “a new, more embedded, downwards trend” driven by the growth of “wellness and mindfulness movements” as well as broader economic pressures.

“A move towards consuming less but focusing on quality and experience may have pushed drinkers away from their sofas and cheap supermarket deals, and pushed beer into special occasion territory – an area where premium craft beer really comes into its own,” she said.