Brits drank 138 million fewer pints - or 1.5m a day - in the final three months of 2012 as beer sales fell 4.7pc last year.
The British Beer and Pub Association blamed a mix of rising government tax and cash-strapped consumers.
"These figures show that the government needs to stop its full-on tax assault on our vital beer and pub industry. We have had tax hikes of 42pc since March 2008," BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said on Friday.
So-called on-trade sales at pubs and restaurants and off-trade sales at shops and supermarkets fell almost equally, as the industry felt the effect on consumers of worries about the economy and muted wage growth.
The government has been raising the tax on beer by 2 percentage points above the inflation rate each year and plans to do so until 2014/15. In November, lawmakers saw a vote to review the policy rejected by the treasury.
Drinkers pay 42pc more tax on beer since the so-called tax escalator was introduced in 2008, during which period 6,000 pubs have closed, industry research showed.
Groups such as Greene King and JD Wetherspoon have been among the better-performing pub companies throughout the downturn, helped by value-led food and drink offers chiming with cost-conscious customers.
Beer sales fell 3.1pc in 2011.
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