Following the news that Cloudwater were abandoning cask brewing, there’s been a lot of talk about whether brewers of cask beer were getting a fair return for their efforts, and whether cask was priced too cheaply in pubs. I know I’ve said it all before, but to my mind this argument is a load of nonsense, and the case against it deserves repeating.
- For a start, it shows a total lack of understanding of how markets work. You won’t get a higher price for a product simply because you keep bleating about how it’s worth more. Premium pricing is only achieved after a long slog of ensuring quality and cultivating public perception, and tends to be done by individual brands, not whole categories.
- Most drinkers already feel that beer in pubs is too expensive, and in fact over the years it has risen more quickly than the general rate of inflation. If there’s a problem with brewers not being properly rewarded, it’s a matter of how the margins are split down the supply chain, not the price paid by the final consumer. Put a brewers’ tip jar next to your handpumps, and see how much money you raise when you’re already charging £3.70 a pint.
- Cask beer by its very nature is an inconsistent product. Even with the best cellarmanship in the world, you can’t guarantee that it will be the same every time. And, in a sense, the fact that you tend to pay less for it than for keg reflects the likelihood of occasionally getting a poor-quality pint.
- Unlike any other product in the pub, cask is critically dependent on throughput for quality. It can’t linger in the cellar waiting for a few high-rolling customers to turn up at the weekend. It has to be “priced to go” to ensure that the whole cask is sold before it goes off.
- And, probably the most important point of all, cask beer has historically been the ordinary, everyday drink of the working man and woman. Plenty of people today are “just about managing” and can’t simply take it in their stride if the price of a pint is arbitrarily increased. Pensioners, who make up a significant and ever-growing proportion of pub customers, have no hope of ever seeing an increase in their income above inflation. Plus, cask fails as an élite product as you lose the turnover that makes it worth drinking in the first place. This argument has seldom been put better than by Phil in Paragraph 5 of this blogpost.