Sunday, 23 January 2011

How much is too much for a beer?

There has been much discussion in the beer blogosphere recently about the price of a nice pint of refreshing beer now being on average over the three pound mark. The January 1st VAT rise to 20% and the increased cost of beer raw materials have been pretty much to blame for the spike in prices. I'm sure, in some cases, there has also been some rounding up by a few less than scrupulous landlords and publicans who have seen this as an opportunity to squeeze a few more pennies from drinkers. Not good news, you would agree, for folk who like a nice pint down the pub every now and again.

On Friday, I headed to the pub to meet some friends for a few end of the week beers to unwind and relax following the strains and stresses of the working week. However, the price I was charged for a pint of Keg BrewDog Punk IPA was enough to make me wince and take a sharp gasp of breath and made £3 for a pint seem like the bargain of the week.

I was asked to pay £3.85 for the pint of Punk and as much as it was a really nice pint, I struggled to come to terms with the price of it. In mitigation, the pub was a Glasgow City Centre pub that is probably paying it's fair share of hefty rents and business rates but being asked to pay nearly £4 for a pint was a bit too rich for my frugal and thrifty Caledonian ways. These are prices that you would expect to pay if you were ordering continental 'premium' beer or in the centre of cities such as Edinburgh and London.

It made me think and ponder a number of things.

Is this a vision of the beer future where some breweries and pubs will start to re-position niche 'real' and 'craft' beer as a  premium, top of the range product to their punters and will start to price accordingly?

Is this, also, the start of the process where beers are now becoming generally more expensive in pubs than generic, mass produced multinational cooking lager?

I know that there is always Wetherspoons where I can get a pint for £2 odd, or in some cases less but I don't want to spend the rest of my days supping in 'Spoons dodging the Deuchars and Greene King.

I know I've paid more than that for hard to get and fairly rare beers but when you are out having a pint drinking fairly common and available ale, where is your cut off point for buying beers in a boozer? At what point do you say, "Sorry. I'm not paying that?"

I think mine might have been reached on Friday.



  1. I'm happy to pay up to £4 for a pint of something like Punk if it's well kept and in a good pub. Pass £4 and I'd think twice - for me to go over that then it needs to be something rare or an imported beer I can't drink often.

    It does come down to the drinker and what they are willing to pay for what they see as a good pint. Many people would refuse point blank to pay £3.85 but others are happy because they expect it to be good.

    I don't think landlords push the prices up to make more for themselves either. Beer doesn't make a bar much money after they've covered all their costs of running a business. The combination of city centre pub and BrewDog beer (which isn't the cheapest) means that it's always going to be bit more expensive than other beers.

    As long as it doesn't hit £4 I'll be happy!

  2. @Mark

    Everyone does have their threshold. I wasn't expecting for it to be that steep especially as it was keg and therefore less potential wastage and more potential profit than cask as it will keep longer. What's the average price of a pint in a non 'spoons place in Kent at the moment? Is it much north of £3?

  3. Market segmentation. The idea is that keg Punk is competing against draught Edelweiss, Peroni, Erdinger and Hoegaarden, not against cask Kelburn or Thornbridge. Therefore it is priced according to the going rate for that segment of the market. Beer may not be very profitable for pubs but both brewer and publican must surely be able to squeeze more from a £4 pint than a £3 one, it's just a bigger cake. Why would anyone invest in rolling out something that's less profitable than what they were doing before?

  4. Anything over £3 has me thinking, but I'm a tight northerner

  5. Questions of price and value will always be subjective. What is the value of anything? I can expect this. The CAMRA types that advocate pubs probably value both beer and pubs higher than general society. They have bothered to join a campaign for it.

    I can also expect that if the price of going to the pub increases beyond both wage and price inflation, as it has done over the last ten years, people might be expected to use pubs less. 2 or 3 times a week becomes once a week as the pun is correctly viewed as expensive relative to the price of other diversions.

    You might expect certain price points like each £1 to make drinkers notice. From £2.50 to £2.60 is only 10p, but from £2.95 to £3.05 is not only 10p but over 3 quid.

    I fully expect Dredgie not only to pay £4 for a pint but to stump £5 when it hits that point. He is a youngish man whose wages & prosperity rise each year. When he is older and mortgages, school fees and the like reduce his disposable spend he may become more price sensitive. When he retires he may as many retired do stick to the Spoons or his local working mans / social club. The excitement of new pong having declined coupled with wishing to make the most of his pension.

  6. Barm is spot on - keg Punk IPA is not competing against cask, but against Leffe. £3.85 a pint (or £1.95 a half) isn't really that much for a 6% (or is it 5.6% now?) premium keg "craft" beer. How much does draught Leffe cost?

    If you're counting the pennies, you don't drink Punk IPA, and you probably don't go in the bars that sell it.

    Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter is still available at under £1.50 a pint in Stockport :-)

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  8. £6.25 for a pint of Punk IPA at O'Neil pub on Wardour Street in the London West end. A new level of rip-off.