Beer cheaper now than in '87

Q Is it true

drink is getting cheaper, or is it all part of the media's hysterical reporting of discount booze?

A According to data released by the ­Office for National Statistics, drinks in the off-trade have seen very little movement in price over the past two years.

The on-trade is racing ahead of the Retail Price Index, especially with beer, and the gap between pubs and the off-trade is widening.

Taking January 1987 as a starting point (and giving prices at that time an index figure of 100), on-trade beer is now at around 260, compared to around 150 for off-trade beer.

Wines and spirits are calculated together. The on-trade index figure now stands at more than 240, compared to around 160 in the off-trade.

Meanwhile the RPI has climbed from its index figure of 100 to a peak of just over 200 in June 2007. So off-trade beer is about 20 per cent off the pace in terms of inflation.

Drinks in the off-trade are more expensive than they were 20 years ago, but beer is actually a little cheaper than it was in 1987. Not just in comparison to RPI, but in absolute terms - that is, the price on the ticket.

Asda was recently selling 15x33cl packs of Budweiser for £5 - something which won't please the critics of ­supermarket beer discounting, and ­illustrates very vividly how beer prices have crashed.

Q Has the growing consumer campaign for local produce had any effect on sales of British (as opposed to English) wine?

A Readers are presumably aware of the distinction here: English wine is made with fresh grapes grown and vinified in England, while British wine is made with imported grape concentrate from abroad. Cyprus is a popular source.

The latest Nielsen data, for the year to Aug 11, shows British wine sales down by 11 per cent and volumes by 15 per cent. This trend has persisted for some time so there does not appear to be any patriotic rush to buy "local" wine with green credentials which might not be quite all they seem.

The sector is still worth £8 million to retailers. Interestingly, sales in the on-trade are measured as virtually zero.

Q Is it true that wines should by law declare how much sulphur dioxide they contain?

A Not quite. Any wine that contains sulphur dioxide in doses of more than 10mg a litre must alert consumers that this is the case - hence the familiar "contains sulphites" line on so many back labels. In fact 10mg would be a fairly modest amount: the maximum permitted for red wines is 160mg.


bonds with oxygen molecules to create sulphur dioxide, preventing the oxygen molecules from oxidising the wine. If they are too heavy-handed, wines can give off an unpleasant aroma of eggs or struck matches.

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