Tuesday, 4 September 2018

HOW much a pint?

Last month, CAMRA reported the results of a survey revealing that a majority of people in the UK now considered the price of a pint in the pub to be unaffordable. So it’s hardly surprising that eyebrows were raised when it was reported that a London branch of the Craft Beer Co. was selling AleSmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian Special Edition for no less than £22.50 a pint.

As is often the case, the issue is rather clouded by the question of strength. Unlike wines and spirits, there is a wide variation in strength between different beers. This particular brew is 12% ABV, and thus is not directly comparable with a pint of 4% standard bitter or lager that even in London would sell for no more than £4.50. However, even if you make a strict bangs-per-buck comparison, it still seems pretty poor value.

It’s generally accepted in the fields of wine and spirits that some rare and prized examples will sell for vastly more than the norm – for example a bottle of whisky was recently sold for almost £43,000. However, beer is much more considered to be a drink for ordinary people, and this wasn’t some scarce vintage brew of which there was a finite supply, it was one brewed for current consumption and sold on draught just like a normal pint of bitter. Of course there’s nothing wrong with some specialist beers selling for eyewatering prices, as after all nobody is forced to buy them. But it’s understandable that it makes headlines.

Inevitably, there was a rather defensive reaction from some quarters saying “why quote a price per pint when it isn’t drunk in pints?” but that’s rather missing the point. Price per pint is a straightforward and generally understood yardstick for comparing the cost of beers. Whether or not it is actually drunk in pints is irrelevant. Fine wines and spirits are generally priced per bottle, but that doesn’t mean that a bottle is the usual measure in which they’re served. And whatever unit was chosen, the relative disparity would be just the same.

In response to this, the Sun newspaper ran a feature in which members of the public were invited to taste a range of expensive craft beers. Fairly predictably, they weren’t particularly impressed - see the image above. Of course there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to any such piece, but inevitably it touched a few raw nerves and provoked accusations of “reverse snobbery”. However, surely it is the job of the media to prick balloons of pretentiousness and self-importance.

It wasn’t long before the mask slipped, with comments being made that many of the drinkers pictured looked like “gammon”, and one well-known beer journalist who really should have known better tweeting that most of them were probably Brexit voters. He later had second thoughts and deleted it, so I can’t link to it here. So much for an inclusive beer community – obviously that’s the wrong kind of inclusiveness.

I’ll leave the final word to this Twitter commenter:

17 comments:

  1. On the other hand, some people will pay a three-figure sum to watch a fricking football match. Nice piece though, Mudge.

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    1. Or a four figure sum for a pair of shoes.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie7 September 2018 at 12:10

      Or a five figure sum for a holiday.

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  2. I too was as amused by the crafties reaction to the Sun article as much as the article itself.

    The article is in the great tradition of the people punching upwards, mocking the posh people and their habits that has been a staple of popular journalism for centuries. Don’t let people tell you other countries don’t do it. Das Bild, the German version of the Sun has many fine examples.

    The other 2 industries that sprang to my mind where this story type occurs frequently were art and fashion. I like the ridiculous pair of trousers no one would wear that cost 10 grand articles. Those are always good value. Participants in those industries seem to take it on the chin with more grace than their beery counterparts and seem to enjoy the joke themselves. Maybe because those industries are more secure in their existence having been around longer. The beer world seems to be more insecure of its place and sensitive to criticism. Of course, those wincing at fine artisanal beer are gammons and Brexit voters and cheap beer at Wetherspoons customers but luckily us gammon Brexit spooners outnumber the rest of ‘em. That’s the fear.

    One thing I’ve noticed about price is that it is more than a simple case of some people think it’s worth it because they appreciate the taste type thing. Craft Gin is an example I noticed recently. Drink is something society puritanically disapproves of. When my sister pays £40 for craft gin she is getting the same grain spirit as a £13 bottle of Gordons. The different botanical, herbs, flavours are not 30 quid’s worth of stuff. The taste is still basically just Gin. Nor does she really give a monkey about supporting some beardy failed city financial analyst with a lock up, a pot still, a mid life crisis and a “dream”. What she is buying is the right to elevate herself above the rest of those people who drink for the alcohol. When she puts her kids to bed and pours a G&T, it is not an act of self-medication, relaxation. It the reward to indulge in being more than what she is. For the moments of that drink she is a connoisseur. That fantasy is what she is buying. It’s her hard earned, who am I to tell her to drink Gordon’s?

    Craft beer is no different. Most of it is just beer concentrate. It’s an acquired taste not a natural taste anyone is born with. You acquire it if you spend time doing so. Drink enough DIPA, eventually you’ll start to like it. The booze rewards the pleasure centres and eventually you will not only forgive the taste but convince yourself you like it. We all acquire tastes. If I compare my own reaction of pleasure to a strong black coffee to my 10-year-old nieces’ wince if she sips it, it is because I acquired the taste, not because she is too stupid to get it. I acquired the taste because I liked the pick me up. Then I started to like the drink. Then I took notice of different roasts, beans and countries of origin. Then I wondered why I was buying a £4 cup of poncey coffee when Greggs do a really good Americano.

    Long live the popular press and the tradition of mocking the pretentions of the middle classes. More of it !

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    1. Aye, it was an enjoyable bit of fun, but to be fair, hardly any people at large, middle class or any other, Remain or Leave voters, would have liked those rather peculiar beers, so it's a caricature to say that people - who might spend ten times the BBC licence fee each year on football TV - are the only ones who can spot a pretentious rip-off when it comes to beer, our lad. One or two commenters on the article made that first point and all.

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    2. Then I wondered why I was buying a £4 cup of poncey coffee when Greggs do a really good Americano.

      You're joking, surely? I recently had an Americano from there and it was all burnt! Roll on being able to use my automatic bean-to-cup coffee machine!

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  3. Sensible piece. Like the final tweet

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  4. I believe it was a special and limited edition of the beer - not the regular one.

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  5. Some people are daft enough to pay for such beer. In honour of daftness I am sending the Craft Beer Company some bottles of our Principia Mathematica (brewed for Cambridge beer fest in honour of Isaac Newton)at 8.4% ABV to see if they will stock it via keg or bottle. To add even greater daftness, I was told by the landlord of one of my locals that there is an alcohol-free gin selling for £27 a bottle. I think I'm going about this brewing lark the wrong way round. Near beer is getting stupid prices in London and now alcohol-free spirits! Making such drinks and selling them is wonderful except for HMRC. Apart from the VAT I suppose. caught any which way.

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    1. Nice to see someone honouring a great man, who truly lifted the stature of this country, rather than some war-mongering, mass-slaughtering beggar, Doc.

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    2. This alcohol-free gin looks like a transparent rip-off. Should be no more than about £3-£4 per bottle.

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  6. Such price differentials are not new,old price lists often show strong beer such as Barley Wine being sold in one third pint (nip) bottles at a price per pint which works out at between 4 and 6 times the price of a pint of standard beer

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  7. If you think that price is outrageous try ordering a pint of Britvic Orange and see what that comes out at. Squeezed carton orange juice is 99p / litre in most supermakets...

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    1. Oh dear, that old canard of "why are soft drinks in pubs so much more expensive than supermarkets?"

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  8. Other point that's worth making is that AleSmith Speedway Stout is only 12%. For a beer costing the equivalent of £22 a pint, even an imported beer, that's still extremely expensive. That's not massively strong for an imperial stout - it's about mid-range. If I think of some of the beers that, say, Mikkeller have produced - some are more than some 25% ABV. They're very big ales. Even BrewDog Tokyo* is 18.2%.

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    1. Maybe some beggar should produce a 4% abv "whisky". But then again these are pretty silly times.

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  9. But by the standards of draught beer in pubs it *is* extremely strong - probably in the 99.9th percentile.

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