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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - The iconic image of an Australian with a long cool beer in hand may not hold true forever, with statistics showing Australians are drinking less beer these days than at any time in the past 61 years.
In a report titled "No Longer a Nation of Beer Drinkers," the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that beer consumption has fallen gradually but consistently since the 1960s, while consumption of wines and spirits has increased.
"Over the past 50 years, the level of apparent consumption of different alcoholic beverages has changed substantially," the report said.
In terms of volume, beer consumption peaked in 1948-1949 at around 190 liters per person, but by 2008-2009 that had decreased to 107 liters per person.
At the start of the 1960s, beer made up 76 percent of all pure alcohol consumed in Australia, but in recent years, this has fallen to 44 percent.
Wine consumption has increased threefold over the same time, to 36 percent, while the intake of spirits has nearly doubled to 20 percent.
The report noted that increased consumption was likely to have been affected by numerous factors including different age patterns in the population, increasing affluence and the growth of the Australian wine industry.
Changing taxes and the introduction of random breath testing are a few of the factors that could have cut consumption.
"Nobody drank wine in 1971," said Stephen O'Bryan, a Sydney resident who proclaims himself a fan of both beer and wine.
"If I'm thirsty I'll drink beer and have wine with dinner. I always have."
Despite the threat, beer's reign as top tipple Down Under still has a while to run.
While wine consumption has been increasing rapidly since the 1960s, its peak is a mere 29 liters per person first hit in 2006-2007 and holding steady in the years since.
"The problem with this document is it describes a trend over those 50 years rather than any sudden change," said Troy Hey, public Relations Manager at beer giant Fosters Group.
While the report said wine's higher alcohol content could be a factor in rising consumption, O'Bryan was skeptical.
"Alcohol content in wine varies so much anyway, anything near enough 15 percent for a heavy red to 9 percent for some of your lighter whites... You can get beer with 9 percent," he said.
Overall, alcohol consumption per person peaked at 13.1 liters of pure alcohol in 1974-1975, drifted down through the 1980s and early 1990s, and then rose back up to 10.4 liters by 2009-2009.
This consumption comes with a cost. A report last year showed that alcohol abuse is costing Australians $36 billion a year.
Reporting by Pauline Askin; editing by Elaine Lies