Beer is being threatened by a boom in wine drinking, both at home and in pubs.
A government report suggests that home consumption of beer fell by 17 per cent during 1997-98 as compared to a rise of 13 per cent in wine drinking. Lager consumption remained almost unchanged.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food surveyed the eating and drinking habits of 6,000 households in the UK for the study.
The report followed an announcement last week by pub operator Scottish and Newcastle Retail that wine sales across its pub estate were also up 16.5 per cent during the year to date, including community pubs, where wine sales are traditionally lower.
S&N has begun several initiatives in its pubs to boost interest in wine. More quality wines have been introduced to widen the offering, with staff training, larger glasses and back-bar promotions.
John Hopwood, S&N Retail's product range manager, said: "We have capitalised on consumers' increasing taste for and understanding of wine, with customers increasingly trading up to a more discerning region specific and estate bottled wine."
Ian Woolverton, spokesman for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said the trend was of concern to beer drinkers.
He said: "Beer is part of our heritage so these statistics are a bit worrying, but the industry is meeting the challenges of the market.
"A number of brewers, including the likes of London brewer Fuller's and Kent brewer Shepherd Neame with its very successful Spitfire ale, are now producing bottled cask conditioned ales for the take-home market."