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In a flat economy, you'd think that beer would be our alcoholic beverage of choice given that it's relatively cheaper than wine or hard liquor. In reality, beer has taken a beating too, with total beer sales dropping below 50 percent of the beverage-alcohol market, according to a recent report in Time magazine. Consumers have also begun showing a preference for premium craft beers over flagship brews like Bud light and Miller Light. And while beer sales have dropped, sales of wine and spirits have been robust. It turns out that as we age — and inevitably earn more — we spend less on beer, and more on the harder stuff.

To prove this, we took a sample of more than 50 of the best beer bars, wine bars, and cocktail bars (about 20 in each category) in the U.S. according to DRAFT magazine, GQ, Food & Wine, Gayot, Bon Appetit and Drinks International, and used our anonymized database of credit card data from more than 20 million households to look at how we spent in each category in 2010 and 2011.

• See how much people spend at your local watering hole.

Popular beer bars in our sample include The Moan and Dove in Amherst, Mass., The J. Clyde in Birmingham, Ala., and the Grey Lodge Pub in Philadelphia, Pa. Popular wine bars include Terroir in New York City, Max's Wine Dive in Houston, Texas, and Underwood Bar & Bistro in Graton, Calif. Popular cocktail bars include The Violet Hour in Chicago, Ill., Elixir in San Francisco, Calif., and Employees Only in New York City.

Check out our slideshow of charts to see what we discovered. Click here.

Charts by Valerie Willis