What’s the most expensive beer in the pubs of Britain? The other day, for example, I saw one advertised in the city for £6.40 – the priciest pint I think I’ve yet witnessed in Edinburgh. Fair enough, it was an imported beer in an establishment that usually runs to a high retail price – but one look and I went for something else. As prices rise across the bar, are the increasing costs of these new, ‘craft’ beers becoming prohibitive to growth?
At the weekend I managed to scrape the other BeerCasters together and visit BrewDog Edinburgh (which was not where the above example occurred, incidentally). On offer, amongst other things, Tempest’s A Face With No Name – at £4 for a two-thirds measure. So, £6 a pint. Fair enough it wasn’t advertised at that price, the suggested serving was the lesser volume – but the very same beer is currently on (cask) elsewhere for under £4 a pint.
Again, we passed on paying that much – even for an excellent beer. BrewDog have said in the past that producing a kegged beer costs more than a cask, which would explain part of the higher sum in their bar than the other pub. But are these new wave of craft beer bars shooting themselves in the foot by charging large amounts for small amounts? Or, are the fans of these kinds of beers willing to stump up the cash?
The obvious answer is that they are – otherwise BrewDog wouldn’t sell their latest Abstrakt AB:10 for an eye-watering £5.45 a third. I’m sure they equate it to drinking a marvellous glass of wine, or splashing out on a rare whisky – in short, a top-end product bought as a treat. The reality is (from my observation) that the majority of people shy away, and the beery crowd buy collective thirds so they can have a sip each.
Is this craft? Sharing communal beers? The whole thing has become a parody of itself – surely beer isn’t meant to be drunk like that. You can create demand for a niche product, but when even the target market can’t (or won’t) pay for it, how sustainable is that? Part of me wonders if BrewDog are disproportionately passing on the unfairly monstrous cost of alcohol duty in these kinds of beers, knowing the ‘geeks’ are the group least affected by price.
As much as I hate writing that (and not only because it contains the hated G-word), it’s probably true. We are the people that go in these modern beer bars – from the new Craft in Brighton to BrewDog Aberdeen. We have the disposable beer income, regularly placing online beer orders that add up to an awful lot. All beer is expensive these days – but if there’s one sector of the pub-going community that can absorb the hit, it’s us.
This isn’t exploitation – craft beer fans are like any other branch of collectors that splash out large sums on their hobby. Sooner or later, however, there’ll come a time when the price point is pushed just that little bit too high. Customers will back away, and look to the offerings of another brewery, or visit another boozer. As beer becomes artisan, the price increases are going through the roof – and it isn’t just because of the duty.