Turning rebellion into money: what price craft beer?

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2012 by kmflett

Turning rebellion into money? The price of craft beer

Unless I’ve missed something Chancellor George Osborne is not too concerned about the nation’s beer drinkers and so in the Budget on 21st March the Beer Escalator is likely to see taxes on beer hiked again and the price of a pint in pubs increase.

It won’t be good news for pubs, for jobs or for drinkers.

But that is not the only price issue facing beer drinkers.

In the past few years the nature of the beer scene in the UK- and elsewhere- has changed. The change, as development in a market society tends to be, has been uneven. Even so there are many more small breweries around and a much wider variety of different beers and beer styles available to the drinker in at least some areas of the country.

Much of this beer is available on cask. Some can be found on keg or in bottle. That has provoked extensive debate which I’m not joining here.

The increasing popularity of beers, often called craft, which have very distinctive flavours, is in my view something to be celebrated.

I have served my time drinking blandish, brown beers. I joined CAMRA in 1974.

To be honest the kind of beer being produced in the UK was leading me to look at more challenging and interesting wines and malt whiskies.

I still like those but over the past two or three years I have returned more and more to beer.

Not only are exciting beers from other countries now available in the UK- in some places- but what is brewed here is often great as well. One need only mention Kernel, Brodies, Redemption, Dark Star, Marble and so on.

Yet all this comes at a price.

The term craft beer implies artisanal production and that, unlike a mega brewery churning out huge amounts of beer, does not come cheap. In addition, often but not always, the strength of such beers is well above the 5% which was until quite recently was the template for a fairly strong beer.

Beers at 6 or 7% are sipping not session beers and Pete Brown has made the excellent point that if you have an imperial stout at 10% plus you no more knock it back than you drink wine in a pint glass.

So very often these beers are savoured and drunk in halves or thirds.

In that sense if they cost £3.50 a pint upwards the actual cost of a beer or two may not be so much more than if you were drinking several pints of a 4% beer.

There is no doubt though that craft beers are generally expensive and that for stronger beers it is far from unusual to expect to pay in excess of £4 a pint.

That isnt helped of course by a mis-guided Government tax on beers above 7.5%

As a union officer I probably shouldn’t admit to not being short of a bob or two but anyway this is not a personal gripe.

Rather my concern is that if there is a revolution in British brewing- and there is- how far is that going to get if many people who like good beer but are short of cash can’t really afford to drink it?

I don’t think it is any accident that craft beer is thriving more in areas which are broadly better off and is often not found much in places which have high levels of poverty and unemployment.

If we are turning beer into the drink of the affluent middle classes only then it won’t be much of a revolution.

A recent Guardian blog on craft beer [6.3.12] notes that it’s not just the kind of beer that is changing but the venues too. Craft beer it argues is drunk not so much in traditional boozers as in trendy bars and indeed restaurants. Well up to a point Lord Copper.

I’m not a huge fan of trendy bars, preferring the all-inclusive nature of the traditional pub. I am though strongly in favour of restaurants selling decent beer and I know work is being done on that. Some, quite unheralded, such as the Chilli Pickle in Brighton and the Fox Reformed in Stoke Newington, have been doing it for years.

Is there an issue about how much craft beer can cost in restaurants? Of course. But no more so than for wine. One understands that profit needs to be made but I’d still be in favour of the mark-up being restrained a bit

Price remains a big issue for many. The prices charged in Wetherspoons, for example, are not at the level they are because Tim Martin is pursuing a charitable endeavour to provide cheap booze to the masses. He is an astute businessman- with crap politics-that knows that while many people like a decent pint they can’t afford to pay three or four quid for it.

Here is a challenge then for craft brewers. What about producing an excellent tasty beer that sells for under three pounds a pint? There is Redemption Trinity, a 3% hop explosion from, er, Tottenham. If we want the revolution to spread we could do with more like that.

That said there is more interesting and tasty beer around then at any time since I had my first pint in around 1970 [in those days the focus on having to be 18 to drink was rather less…]. So while issues of price can be debated, just spreading the word about craft beer is important too


4 Responses to “Turning rebellion into money: what price craft beer?”

  1. Fair points, though I think you’ll find two things. One is that few, if any, craft brewers have any egalitarian leanings when it comes to pricing their beer and two, JDW beer prices are creeping up. I paid £3.10 for a pint of 3.8& Bitter and Twisted in the one in Goodmans Field, E1.

    It might also be worth mentioning that contrary to what you might hope, targeting the “discerning” – read as those having a few bob – is portrayed as a positive in their business plans. Oh and I should add that there is plenty of very tasty craft beer available at under three quid a pint, but you may well have to get out of the South to experience it.

  2. The concept of “interesting beer” is a contradiction in terms, just like an “interesting book on Chartism”.

  3. I think it’s time the government introduced maximum unit pricing. If I can get a third of a litre of Chimay Blue for £1 per unit (£3 for 330ml @ 9%), how can Marble charge double that for their barleywine (£16 for 750ml @ 10.5%)? Who has that kind of money to blow on beer?

    The Posh Big Bottle is a development I’m not keen on generally – that way Fraserburgh lies…

  4. […] this week, Keith Flett suggests a solution to the vexing problem of the sometimes worryingly high price of some…: as we read it, he is asking craft brewers to challenge themselves on price and brew at least one […]

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