Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pricey Keg?


You all know me. An open minded sort of a guy who takes things as he finds them, doesn't get hidebound by outdated definitions, always willing to try new things, never stuck in the past and very, very, generous with my moolah. A kind of modern day Adam Adamant. A few extra coppers here and there for beer? No problem if it is something I want to drink; no problem if it has quality running through it and it came a long way; no problem if it is in London where that's just the way it is, again as long as the quality is right. But what if I'm expected to pay extra for a beer that would cost me a lot less on cask? Less in the same pub even?

Back to the open minded bit. I'm stung, nay, cut to the very quick by those misguided miscreants, those picky trouble makers, those poor deluded souls that think I don't like craft keg beer out of badness. I've been complaining about the lack of availability of British craft keg up here in the grim North as I have had little experience of it other than a bit in London and Sheffield, but here we have in Manchester the chance to try it. Port St Beer House has installed extra keg taps for British craft keg, so me and E hot footed it there last Friday. E somewhat grudgingly it has to be said. It seems my keg drinking plan didn't meet with her approval. Cutting remarks such as "we could go to the Marble for a couple of decent pints" show you Dear Reader, what I'm up against in the search for enlightenment.

So I order a couple of halves to prove my doubting better half wrong. "A half of Schiehallion and one of Jaipur (both keg) please." "£4.50 of your British pounds" quoth the bearded barperson. "Fucking Hell" quoth me and her indoors in unison. Now there isn't a keg price-list in the PSBH - an oversight I'm sure - but there is one for cask. It's in the photo. Keg is apparently pricier. Lots pricier. What did it taste of? The Schiehallion of carbonic acid and metal, the Jaipur, like a fizzy, pale shadow of itself , which might just have suited a hot summer day in a beer garden, but on the whole just appeared to be rather pointless, especially in the PSBH where I have to say, they know their stuff cask wise and would have presented the real thing in all its glory.  We reverted to the much cheaper and better cask and noted that Thornbridge appear to be labelling some beers as "Thornbridge Hall".  New and old breweries I assume.

We burped all the way home, remarking that CAMRA has little to fear from new wave keg. At this rate it will price itself out of the market, so don't be afraid to pile on the cost new wave brewers. Oh I know it has extra production costs, but don't worry about price.  Nor you Dear Landlord.  Make the pips squeak. You both owe it to your followers.

And you my keg loving lovelies? Drink up. I've seen the future and it certainly works for me!

This is a bit of fun really, but it does illustrate a serious point on price. Just how much will that market stand?

38 comments:

Mark said...

Is this just a one-off example of the keg being much more expensive or is it consistent elsewhere? Why were the prices so much more? Have you asked the breweries what their pricing policy is like on the beers?

I haven't noticed such a marked difference in price between cask and keg of the same or similar beers. Plus, as you're quick to point out, there's only a handful of pubs serving these beers and they are the sort of places that can also demand a slightly higher price point because of their specialist nature (not that £4.50 for two halves - especially those two halves, of modest abv, of which Schiehallion isn't the best on keg, in my opinion - is acceptable).

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

I must admit, I've found Keg to be consistently more expensive. But it's still better for certain beers. Punk IPA is great on keg but generally will cost you about 50p more, which is, admitedly a little irritating as it used to cost about £3 on cask.

beersay said...

To be honest for me price rarely is a deciding factor it's choice.
I too, being based in the midlands (Stoke) rarely get the chance to try the new keg beers unless I travel to London etc, when I do I'm not particularly looking to see what a beer costs against it's counterpart in cask if that applies, I just decide "I want that one" and hand over the loot.

If I've made a wrong choice and it's crap, then I'll try something else and won't buy it again.

I've seen so many people come into my local and miss out on great CASK beer because it's 20p dearer than something else on the menu.

Spend, live dangerously, you can't take it with you.

Cheers Phil

Barm said...

The real market for keg is for bars that can't be bothered with cask. In the trendier sort all beer is expensive. It's a different market with different pricing.

You encountered the unusual situation of both markets colliding in the same pub.

Tandleman said...

Mark: I don't think it is actually, but then again I have limited experience of it, but what I have backs up my point. My general point is that even these emporia will have to watch it.

Beersay. Too glib for me I'm afraid.

Barm. Is it that unusual? ET, ST, PSBH, Blackfriars and more all do both.

Phil said...

I visited the PSBH soon after it opened and tried the keg 5a.m. Saint. It was cold, it was fizzy, it wasn't as nice as the cask version and it cost too much - although, I have to say, not that much too much. I think they may have had what we can charitably call a rethink on prices all round; I think the cask beers were mostly under £3 in those dim and distant days of, er, February this year.

Barm - interesting idea, but the keg-only places you're talking about have serious overheads which the bar prices are there to prop up (DJs, lighting, bouncers, podium dancers, bribes to local drug squad, etc). £4.50 a pint in a bar with bog-standard pub/bar facilities and opening hours just seems like a rip-off.

Phil said...

Tediously scrupulous addendum: OK, not under £3, but certainly hovering around £3 and under £3.50.

Curmudgeon said...

Craft keg is only really going to succeed if it makes inroads into the kind of places that currently, for reasons of turnover, cellar facilities and/or image, don't stock cask. While the only places you currently encounter it are in specialist beer pubs, if those are its only outlets it won't get very far.

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

I could see Brewdog on keg being served in Wetherspoons within the year.

Curmudgeon said...

"I could see Brewdog on keg being served in Wetherspoons within the year."

It could well be once they open their new brewery - and priced alongside Stella rather than cask. However, is Punk IPA maybe too extreme a beer to go that mainstream?

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

I've got a number of friends who have started drinking Punk IPA on keg in Mr Foleys who previously only drank lager. It's a great gateway beer and because its served colder and through a keg font they dont see it as a massive jump. Plus, is the new punk really that extreme? The old one was but the new one is pretty drinkable i think, especially from keg.

I hasten to add that some of these guys who drank the Punk from Keg have now been persuaded to try things such as Diablo from Summer Wine on cask, whereas before they dismissed all cask as old man beer.

I like keg and cask, but i agree keg should be priced similarly if it is the same beer.

Tyson said...

TM
You seem to have a habit of being stung for less-then-great expensive beer in Manchester in recent times.

Hasn’t keg traditionally been more expensive than cask? Haven’t we smirked at the lager boys paying more for their “inferior” beer? Certainly one of the clever elements of early Nitrokeg marketing was convincing people to pay more to have Nitrogen injected into their beer.

As for the differential between cask and keg, well, when Robinsons and Holts had their Smooth coming out of the cask, you paid about 10p more for a squirt from the Nitrogeniser.

However, “craft keg” is special (so we’re told) and is only available in special places. So the lesson is to leave your old Kopecks at home and practice saying “How much is your craft keg, my good man?”

Neil
But it's still better for certain beers.
Debatable and, at best, subjective.

Neil & PC
I’ve heard that about Brewdog and JDW. However, I heard it wasn’t Punk, but 77 Lager that they wanted trialling.

Dubbel said...

I have to agree Tandy both on form and price. I've never found a keg beer to come out better than the real thing. However, I do place a lot of importance on temperature and the keg stuff is generally just too cold (and gassy) for me, particularly in our meek climate.

I have, however, greatly enjoyed keg beers - the latest being The Kernel's Citra a couple of weeks ago. USIPAs also seem to come out well from the keg. Maybe our British brewers just need a bit more experience at this form of dispense?

jesusjohn said...

I wrote a huge comment and decided I should blog it instead...

...once again, Tandleman, you've been an inspiration!

http://t.co/68dBxW0

Gavin said...

"well, when Robinsons and Holts had their Smooth coming out of the cask, you paid about 10p more for a squirt from the Nitrogeniser."

Nitrogened Cask! I must say that is something I have never heard of before now.

James, Brewer @ SWB said...

'I've got a number of friends who have started drinking Punk IPA on keg in Mr Foleys who previously only drank lager. It's a great gateway beer and because its served colder and through a keg font they dont see it as a massive jump. Plus, is the new punk really that extreme? The old one was but the new one is pretty drinkable i think, especially from keg.

I hasten to add that some of these guys who drank the Punk from Keg have now been persuaded to try things such as Diablo from Summer Wine on cask, whereas before they dismissed all cask as old man beer.'

Neil your comments above absolutley nail it, this is EXACTLY one of main the effects we want our keg to achieve, getting the macro-lager boys onto decent beer! Then EVERYONE wins!

As you say Brewdog keg beer has provided a stepping stone from cold lager through to cask beer, without the intermediary beer it's a step too far to cask for many.

And surely Tanders the more we get away from macro-lager the better? Agreed?

StringersBeer said...

Isn't it well established that (in some markets) high pricing is associated with higher perceived value. "Reassuringly expensive" is a phrase that springs to mind.

brian said...

ive had crafty keg in the sheffield tap a few times now, its alright like if i fancy something cold, but brewdog 5am saint and camden pale ale at 4.70 a pint? sweet jesus, rip off, pure and simple. rob dogs

phil55494 said...

Didn't try the Schiehallion but had some of the Jaipur on keg at psbh last week. Yes I did baulk a bit at the price and yes I did think it was too cold and too carbonated for my liking. Still I had a couple of other keg beers while there (one from the US and another from Derbyshire) and it was the Jaipur that seemed best of the lot.

The Thornbridge Hall branded porter (can't remember the name) was very good from a small tasting.

RedNev said...

Last Thursday I came across the first 'craft' keg font that I've seen - a Brewdog beer in a Liverpool pub. I watched the barman pouring away pint after pint of sludgy-looking shaving foam while the customer waited, and while I got two pints of real ale served, paid for and topped up. It didn't look tempting in the slightest.

Curmudgeon said...

Sounds as though it's not been set up properly - most keg (even if you don't like it) isn't like that.

Tandleman said...

I sort of agree James. If people want mass produced lager -fine - but yes I'd like to see more ambition in their drinking.

Phil said...

Phil - "it was too cold, too fizzy and too expensive, but at least it was better than the other keg beers I tried"?

Dave said...

RedNev and all..

"Last Thursday I came across the first 'craft' keg font that I've seen - a Brewdog beer in a Liverpool pub. I watched the barman pouring away pint after pint of sludgy-looking shaving foam while the customer waited, and while I got two pints of real ale served, paid for and topped up. It didn't look tempting in the slightest."

I get ya but that's surely the bloody point!
One or two guys who love cask but the loads who drink the keg and enjoy it.

As a brewer, I want to sell beer. If I can put 'craft' keg into bars that only can/want to sell lager and can get people drinking my beer instead then great. I get a profit.

Personally I prefer cask but I don't like CAMRA's attitude about keg these days.
I think there are too many people who are thinking idealogically about cask beer vs keg in a CAMRA type way and forget that people are trying to make a living out of it.

Cheers

Barm said...

That is precisely the point Dave. Of course you want to sell beer in any format to anyone who will buy it. But CAMRA is a beer consumers' organisation, not a brewers' one. Unfortunately their interests are not always completely identical.

Looking forward to your beer at SRAF tomorrow BTW :)

Jonny - Port Street said...

Hi All,
Not going to enter the debate on keg vs cask, but in terms of pricing, we don't charge a premium for craft keg, in actual fact we take a hit on our margins. We reflect the cost passed on to us by the brewer/distributor, and as I think James SWB has commented somewhere else there are additional costs to kegging esp at small scale. I agree with James re keg being a gateway to great beer and that is part of the reason we wanted to give people an opportunity to try it for themselves, I think over time the cost will stack up better. I think it's an exciting time for UK brewers and I can see in the future all beer drinkers(cask and keg) being catered to by UK brewers, imagine a bar where US and european beers are in the minority and UK cask and keg are the mainstay.

RedNev said...

Sorry, Dave - what's the point? The point I was making was that IN THAT ONE INSTANCE, craft keg looked very poor quality and uninviting while the cask was great, served quickly and I was sitting down drinking it while the keg customer was watching alcoholic shaving foam being poured away, even though he'd been at the bar before me.

"One or two guys who love cask but the loads who drink the keg and enjoy it." That wasn't the situation at all - it was the other way around, except the keg lover was kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting ...

coxy said...

However good Keg beer can be ,its always going to be too cold and gassy for me,Im just not used to drinking beer that way anymore. But if keg beers get more punters into drinking cask beer because they were curious after drinking keg that is great as that could lead to me having more choice in the future if cask sales increase. I always thought keg Ales would be great for curry houses ,and am surprised there are no? curry and ale houses??

DemonBrew said...

Ok RedNev, I read your post wrongly!
I can be wrong sometimes though only sometimes :-)

I do see people do that whole 'look at those keg types' thing but if they like it and are prepared to pay for it...well, that was my point.
Trying to make a living here.

If someone came along and asked me to brew cat piss at £200/cask, cat piss at vast quantities is what thet would get!

DemonBrew said...

Another thing I have seen a lot of is trendy middle class types who would normally drink bottled lager in pubs drinking bottled 330ml brewdog.

Does that make it wrong?

Personally I think so, but business-wise I think...well lets get beer into that market.

DemonBrew said...

oh, forgot to say, may old man said he would never pay £1 for a pint.

When they want over £4 a pint, that's when I only drink homebrew!

Well, at least I hope earnings rise the same :-)

Tandleman said...

Just back in the blogosphere. No-one has answered the main question which is "how much can this market stand?"

Tyson said...

No-one has answered the main question which is "how much can this market stand?"

Possibly because no one knows the answer? How long is a piece of string?

SteveF said...

I dunno about the general question, but on a more specific note, the Port Street Beer House generally seems quite expensive. They tweeted this pic the other day of beers on and their prices:

http://yfrog.com/gy33dugj

That's quite pricy IMO - I had two of those beers (the Alchemy and Hophead) in the Southampton last week for 2.95. That's considerably less than 3.80 or 3.40. In fact, I also had quite a lot of Hophead for free as they put a complimentary cask on to celebrate winning North London Pub of the Year! I've not been back home for a while, but when I do I'm looking forward to visiting the PSBH, but it seems rather steep to me.

Phil said...

I was in the Crown in Stockport the other night & had four halves - nothing on that board, but the brewers were Mallinson's, Northern, Dark Star and Blue Monkey. (I don't think anyone leaves the Crown complaining about the beer selection.) It cost me less than £6 all told - none of them was more than £2.80/pint, and the cheapest was £2.40. Unless the Crown are trading at a loss, which doesn't seem likely, it's obviously possible to sell beer from those brewers well below the PSBH level. Answering Tandleman's question, it looks as if PSBH have a good idea of what their particular market will bear - either that or they're in the process of finding its limits!

Curmudgeon said...

I think the Magnet is maybe 10-20p a pint cheaper than the Crown.

But possibly the PSBH, given its location and the fact it has been recently developed, has higher overheads.

Hal Prestigious said...

I see you insist on not using the correct terminology when referring to great beer that's not cask conditioned. Let me remind you, friend. It's called Proper Real, or Proper Real Keg. If you recall, a mad yank came up with this definition several years ago.
He was correct in his assumption that Proper Real would eventually take off and give us UK drinkers another option.

Saga Of Nails said...

F*cking ouch, is all that I can say. Actually keg ought to be cheaper than cask and eventually it shall be. But for the moment people are prepared to pay more for keg, mostly out of conditioning and expectation.

In a busy, well maintained bar there will be a lot less wastage and ullage on keg then there will be on cask. Frankly the cost of CO2 and flash cooler maintenance is totally minimal, so the only extra expense for a pub is the additional electricity that flash coolers use.

Breweries knock out this stuff for more, but i'm not convinced that there is any justifiable reason why keg should cost more per unit than cask. Cask requires finings which are not cheap, whereas keg would mostly be filtered.