Saturday, 5 February 2011

The bottle premium

Recently, in the comments, Ghost Drinker mentioned that in his shop he was selling canned Grolsch alongside the bottled version at a considerably lower price, and wondered why anyone would choose to buy the bottles. So I asked the question “How much would you pay for a bottled version of a 5% beer selling at £1.25 for a 500ml can?” There were 75 responses, broken down as follows:

No more than £1.25: 27 (36%)
£1.40: 13 (17%)
£1.50: 22 (29%)
£1.75: 5 (7%)
£2.00: 2 (3%)
More than £2.00: 6 (8%)

Given the wide range of responses, it’s clear that some people are prepared to pay substantially more for bottles than cans, while others aren’t that bothered. It’s certainly true that there remains a widespread view that canned beer is inferior to bottled, which may stem back to the 60s and 70s when can technology was less developed and canned beer was often felt to have a metallic taste. For some CAMRA members, a can defines all that is bad in beer, and they wouldn’t be seen dead with one in their hands. Presumably even if it contained Budweiser Budvar or BrewDog Punk IPA.

While I don’t avoid them on principle, I can’t say I’ve bought very many cans, and never really tried to do a direct comparison between two beers that purport to be the same. It remains my perception that beer doesn’t taste as good from a can as from a bottle and so, while I might find a can of decent lager refreshing on a hot day, if I really wanted to appreciate a beer I’d go for a bottle. But I don’t know whether that’s just a perception, or does still reflect a genuine difference in taste. Some canned premium ales have a distinctly different, softer carbonation from the equivalent bottles, which is an attempt to give them something of a “draught “ character, but can come across as merely a bit flat. (Incidentally, for what it is worth, I would never drink beer directly from either a bottle or a can)

It’s also the case that, with few exceptions, “premium” products come in bottles, not in cans. Even when effectively the same beer is sold in side-by-side in both forms, bottles are priced considerably higher than cans. Bottles are for savouring, cans are for indiscriminate guzzling.

You can actually see this in action at the Bottle Stop, a specialist off-licence in Bramhall, a prosperous suburb of Stockport. This sells a range of imported German bottled beers, many from Bavaria, typically at prices between £2.00 and £2.40 a bottle. It also sells some imported German beers in cans, not necessarily the same ones, but with an overlap in terms of style and strength, typically for between £1.25 and £1.50. So it seems that, in practice, enough people think it is worth paying a premium of 75p or more to make it worthwhile for the shop to stock the bottles.

There has been a lot of discussion on beer blogs in the past few days on the questions of cask vs keg vs bottle vs can, with by no means a universal condemnation of cans, so you will notice that I have started a new poll asking whether or not you drink canned beer.


  1. Totally of topic BUT ...
    I popped into my local for a drop of 'tincture AND.....
    A CAMRA sweat-shirted chap came in with clipboard and attendees.
    what a palaver!
    Who did he think he was?
    A pint of the local for him and a pint and a half for his entourage. Forms filled the table - It's a great pub - We don't need to be told that but Why oh Why did three quarters of the customers keep going out for a fag?
    Why can't CAMRA see the elephant in the room and rally against the smoking ban to allow all drinkers to enjoy the inside of what venues are left.
    We don't go to pubs simply for the 'ale'! We go for the camaraderie not because a 'trainspotter' thinks his tick box for says the beer is what ever he says it is>
    It's our pub and CAMRA enthusiasts may descend upon it but it's a local and the more Government alienate sections of the electorate the more likely pubs will cease to provide their essential local function.
    Protect pubs by letting them provide for 100% of the community with ventilated provision for smokers
    BTW - I don't smoke but I miss my friends.

  2. Though nearly always true about cans being cheaper - the Grolsch problem is a specific one.

    Many assume that the bottled version of Grolsch is 'genuine' - meaning that it was made in the country of 'implied origin', and so they happily pay more for it.

    The reality, of course, is that only the iconic 'pop top' Grolsch bottles are brewed in Holland, whereas every other version - whether bottled or canned - is brewed here in the UK.

    This might explain the higher price which people willingly (yet unwittingly) pay.

  3. I consider myself to be a bottle snob but this week I've been drinking Bass in cans and thinking it is okay. Always good to keep an open mind

  4. I thought the whole point was about our cans being produced in the U.K. and the bottles being produced in the country of origin (which they are) and whether people were prepared to pay extra for 'provenance'?

  5. To off-topic Xopher: yesterday you'd have seen me go around several pubs in West Lancs with a note book, writing down all the beers available in each pub. In one I saw the barmaid looking at me in a amused way, so I explained that I was writing an article for the local CAMRA mag, which I edit. Her attitude changed (I wasn't just a beer geek after all) and she said the licensee would be pleased. The forms you saw may have been for the Good Beer Guide, which cannot exist without a lot of form filling.

    You complained that smokers can't enjoy beer in their preferred way, but criticised those CAMRA types for having a drink in THEIR preferred fashion. You're not only off topic, but inconsistent too.

  6. @Ghost Drinker - yes, I know I was asking a somewhat different question to the one you posed. Grolsch must be one of the few beers where you can get British-brewed and "home" brewed versions side by side. OK, I suppose you can still get Belgian-brewed Stella, but not generally in the same shop, and is there much difference now anyway?

  7. Most bottles of Grolsch state "Brewed in the UK and Holland", not specifying the brewery. This is so capacity can be shared. You might actually be necking Dutch Grolsch in the UK or English Grolsch in Holland.

    Same reason Becks now state "EU" on cans of Vier. So Inbev can use capacity at any given brewery.


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