UK beer sales have fallen by 8% in the first quarter of 2009, the biggest quarterly fall for more than a decade, according to new industry figures.

Off-trade beer sales were hit particularly hard in the first three months of the year, down 11% compared to the same period of 2008, according to figures published by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) today (28 April).

It is the third consecutive quarter that off-trade beer sales have fallen, suggesting that declines in the on-trade have spread to retail sales as the UK falls deeper into recession.

On-trade beer sales fell by 6% during the quarter, the BBPA said, adding that consumers drank 3.6m fewer pints per day compared to the first three months of last year.

The trade body used its report to launch a fresh attack on Chancellor Alistair Darling, who last week used his Budget Speech to raise duty tax on all alcoholic drinks by a further 2% above inflation in 2009.

"Tax income from duty in January and February was down GBP17m on the same period in 2008, despite an 18%  tax increase during the period," the BBPA said, citing figures from HM Revenue & Customs.

This, it said, "must raise questions" over the Government's duty tax policy.

It has warned that that last week's duty rise, which made a pint of beer GBP0.05 more expensive, was akin to the Chancellor "signing the death warrant" of the UK's 56,000-strong pub sector. Up to 39 pubs are closing their doors permanently every week, the BBPA said.