British pubs' ale sales ail

Raise a pint to the old British pub: dark-paneled, fixed on the English landscape — and, more than ever these days, empty.

Beer sales in British pubs have slumped to their lowest level since the Depression, including a 10 percent drop in pints drawn in just the past year, an industry group said Monday.

Blame a nationwide smoking ban that took hold last year, rising costs, competition from supermarkets and an economic downturn that has more Britons tossing back a Newcastle or Boddingtons at home and skipping the local watering hole.

“I used to go two or three times a week after work, but now I just stay at home and go once every now and again,” said Chris Hanson, 43, a carpenter heading to a grocery in the Camden neighborhood of London. “I do more drinking at home now than at the pubs. They're more for special occasions since it's becoming so expensive,” he said.

Beer sales in pubs for April through June were down nearly 5 percent from the same period a year ago, the British Beer and Pub Association said in its quarterly Beer Barometer report.

The report said pub managers around Britain are pulling about 14 million pints a day, 1.6million fewer than last year and 7 million fewer than at the height of the market in 1979.

The Campaign for Real Ale, a consumer group promoting traditional pubs, says more than 1,400 pubs made their final “last calls” last year. The campaign says more than half of British villages are dry for the first time since the Norman Conquest of 1066.

But how can it be? Beer has been such a staple across the country that bars in many rural pubs are still adorned with personalized drinking cups for regular imbibers.

“Most people are a bit bored with beer,” said Anthony Buck, a manager at the Lock 17 bar in Camden. He said beer is being overtaken by drinks such as hard cider, which, he said, “is a lot more fashionable.”

The association says the average price of a pint is about $5, although it can vary considerably from one pub to the next. The same report showed sales in shops and supermarkets rose nearly 4 percent.

In the United States, beer sales are not tracked specifically from bars, so it's difficult to make a comparison to the British trends, said Eric Shepherd, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights, a leading industry newsletter.

In Britain, the beer and pub association, whose members brew 98 percent of Britain's beer and include nearly two-thirds of the country's pubs, fear the slower sales will mean more pubs will have to close.