Tuesday 17 March 2009

The premium pint

Go into any multi-beer pub, such as the Crown in Stockport, and the odds are that all the cask beers on sale will be at the same price for the same approximate strength. The same is largely true of the premium bottled ales on the off-licence shelf. Yet amongst wines and spirits there can easily be price differences of 3 to 1 between the same strength products.

While there can be big differentials between pubs, no cask beer brewers have successfully managed to establish and maintain a price premium over their rivals, even though some products are manifestly better than others. It’s puzzling why this should be so when it so obviously doesn’t apply in pretty much every other consumer market.

Maybe to a large extent it’s because “cask beer” is seen as a generic product, as the manufacturers of keg lagers, cider and Guinness are able to command a price premium of up to 60p a pint over cask beers of comparable strength. Of course why that should be so is a different question. Possibly the fact that standards of cellarmanship vary so much between different pubs also has a part to play.

I was interested to spot while composing this post that Jeff Pickthall had linked to my poll about how much people would consider exorbitant for a pint of 4.0% ABV beer, and makes a similar point about the lack of price premiums in the cask beer market. One commentator describes the poll as “simplistic”, which of course it is in a way, but it is clear from the responses so far that people’s perceptions of acceptability differ dramatically.

As Jeff says, “Ask wine-lovers ‘How much would you consider exorbitant for a bottle of 12% ABV wine?’ and the response would be a puzzled ‘which wine?’


  1. Interesting question and your comparison to the same question asked about wine is thought-provoking. I wonder if the answers might be different for bottled beer where there might be an inclination to treat some as premium? I think so - I paid four quid or so for a bottle of Marble Decadence, and a similar amount for some Belgians.

  2. There are more price differentials in the bottled beer market, but it tends to be only imported specialities that can command much of a premium. Most of the well-known premium ales in 500ml bottles sell for very similar prices, and sometimes retailers even apply a fairly flat price regardless of strength.

    They've changed it now, but until last year Morrisons sold pretty much all their PBAs at £1.59 a bottle.

  3. Actually, the wholesale prices can vary quite a lot. Some pubs charge a flat rate based on strength and absorb any price difference. More probably have their own limit on price for buying in beer at a certain strength.

    Some, like us, put a mark-up on. If the beer is good it sells itself. I find it interesting that sometimes the cheep ones don't sell.

    Timothy Taylors Landlord and Coniston Blue Bird for instance are examples of beers that can command a higher price tag successfully.

    For interest our most expensive 4% beer on draft is Timmermans Kriek at £5 a pint. Some of the prices on your vote are less than what I buy it in for. Yes, it does sell.

  4. Just as it's odd that beer strength (quality is largely subjective) doesn't seem to dictate relative price, I'm also surprised how the quality and location of the pub is often irrelevant.

    Fairly basic Greene King pubs in the less affluent Fenland parts of Cambridgeshire often charge as much as the tourist pubs in the centre.

    Holts and Robbies pubs always seem to charge pretty much the same as well, though I was mildly ouraged to pay £1.09 for a half in the Cheadle Hulme recently !

  5. Robbies' prices have always varied depending on the area the pub is in - you can pay £2.04 for Unicorn in one pub, and £2.50 only a few miles away, but in a more up-market area.

    Holts seem to have been raising their prices in their refurbished pubs so they can now be dearer than the local competition. I mentioned on the blog last year paying £2.23 a pint in the Roebuck in Urmston. They are no longer the cheap brewers of old.

    Of course the local price champions are still Sam Smith's - Old Brewery Bitter is only about £1.32 a pint in their two pubs in Central Stockport.

  6. On Jeff P's wine comment, I suspect the vast majority of regular consumers of wine will have a price
    point beyond which they will not go. They may also take a different view for everyday drinking and special occasions. But they wouldn't baulk at giving a definite answer to such a question.


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